Our Favorite TV Shows of 2023

Featuring shocking deaths, outrageous comedy and one extremely elaborate prank

December 22, 2023 10:15 am
Best TV Shows of 2023
If you need something to stream over the holidays (or in 2024), these were our absolute favorite shows of 2023.
Images via studios/Danica Killelea

Not to sound grim, but there’s a good chance that 2023 could be the last truly great year for television for quite some time. Sure, we’re still living in the era of Peak TV, but the past 365 days saw many of the very best shows either hang it up for good (we’ll miss you, Succession and Barry) or announce that 2024 will see their final seasons. (The news that Curb Your Enthusiasm will end next year has us feeling prettayyyyyyyy, prettayyyyyyyyy bad.) And of course, dual strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild both addressed important issues in the industry but also meant huge delays in filming for countless shows. Some of our favorite returning shows were punted into 2025, while others were simply canceled.

With all that in mind, it seems pretty safe to assume that next year will be a bit of a rebuilding year when it comes to TV, as networks and streaming services scramble to replace some of their most popular shows and make up for lost time. That means we’ll need to savor the excellence we were treated to in 2023 for as long as possible. And if you happened to miss any of it, you should have plenty of time to plow through these series in the coming year.

To help you properly stack your streaming queues, we’re highlighting our favorite TV shows of 2023 below. As always, these are simply personal selections — not any sort of declaration of “the best” — presented in no particular order. (How could we possibly begin to rank such an embarrassment of riches?) All of them managed to stand out in an extremely crowded field that threatens to become barren in the very near future, so be prepared to binge accordingly.

Succession, HBO

In a world where streaming services typically dump entire seasons of programming on a single day and spoilers of all kinds are never more than a keyboard stroke away, it’s pretty tough to genuinely shock viewers. But that’s exactly what Succession managed to do when it — spoiler alert — killed off Logan Roy just three episodes into its fourth and final season. That episode, “Connor’s Wedding,” is an absolutely stunning hour of television, filmed in one long, continuous take from the moment the Roy siblings get the awful news about their father’s demise. By positioning viewers right in the middle of the action and refusing to cut away, it perfectly captures how frantic and painful the immediate aftermath of an unexpected death can be, and it does the nearly impossible by making us feel bad for the Roys despite the fact that they’re objectively terrible people who have done things like hand the presidency to a neo-Nazi, silence sexual-assault victims and place their business interests over the safety and emotional well-being of their own children. It’s when they’re grieving, not marching into boardrooms, that we’re reminded of the cold, hard truth that none of them are Logan. And they never will be, because they have all been irreparably damaged by him — by his abuse, his neglect and, yes, his vast fortune. They’re all horrible in their own ways, but we pity them in these moments because ultimately, they’re sad people who have led sad lives who will never achieve their pathetically simple dream of impressing their father because he messed them up too badly. They are, as Logan so callously told them in their final conversation before his unexpected death, “not serious people.” Read our full review of the series finale here. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Shining Vale, Starz

I was as surprised as anyone to know I had a subscription to Starz — or that the year’s funniest show was stationed on the “That still exists?” cable network. Now in its second season, Shining Vale is the story of a dysfunctional family who moves to a suburban home that seems to be haunted. The homages here (The Shining, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby) are fun, but what makes the show work is the chemistry and comic timing between stars Greg Kinnear and Courtney Cox. It’s more quick-witted comedy than horror, and that’s fine; you might not be scared, but it’s one of the few laugh-out-loud shows on television right now. Sadly, if you want to watch it, you’ll have to act quickly; this week, the show was canceled, and both seasons will be removed from streaming on Dec. 31. — Kirk Miller

The Bear, FX on Hulu

The first season of The Bear became an all-out phenomenon, so the Chicago-set series was facing high expectations heading into its second go-around. Season 2 more than lived up to the hype — it delivered two of the strongest episodes of TV in recent memory with “Fishes” and “Forks.” The former, a star-studded Christmas episode, provided new insight into why Carmy is the way he is while also perfectly capturing the relatable chaos of a dysfunctional family gathering. (Read our full essay on that episode here.) “Forks,” on the other hand, focused on Richie’s personal growth from charismatic fuck-up to a man who has finally found his purpose — a bonafide front-of-house manager. As Michael Tedder wrote in his piece about how the show achieved “Dudes Rock” nirvana via Richie’s transformation, “Over time, and with the help of Olivia Colman, he learns humility and that there’s a way out of his past — filled as it is with a painful divorce, unresolved trauma and guilt over the death of his best friend and a nagging feeling the modern world doesn’t have use for a round-the-way guy like him — and that helping others would help him become the best version of himself. By cleaning the forks, he finally cleanses himself.” — Bonnie Stiernberg

Beef, Netflix

Though an explosive road rage incident in a parking lot sparks this show, it’s really a simmering grievance, a beef if you will, that centers the plot. That complaint is actually not necessarily between the two initial parking-lot combatants, Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, but they don’t realize it. Seeing them figure it out in an extremely roundabout way is both funny and heartbreaking at times, but it is worth the watch. Also, if you like ‘90s alternative music, this show has you covered. — Evan Bleier

How to With John Wilson, HBO

Always leave at the height of a party. It’s sound advice we’d all be keen to follow, and it’s exactly what John Wilson did with season 3 of his show, How to With John Wilson. He recently told The New York Times that he likes trilogies and he “wanted to end [the show] on a strong note.” Though it may be devastating for the many people like me who find How to With John Wilson the most interesting, weird and oftentimes heartfelt show on TV, the third and final season is indeed a masterpiece, much like the first two that came before. Few people see the world through Wilson’s eyes — he finds fascination in the mundane, filming everyday New Yorkers while attempting to give advice and working through his own personal, yet relatable, issues. Each episode opens as a sort of directive on how to do commonplace things, like “How to Find a Public Restroom” and “How to Watch the Game.” Wilson tries to answer these questions by talking to people he encounters and ponders their various recommendations. His voice is layered over shots of New York that most overlook but are integral to the fabric of the city — piles of mannequins on Canal Street, a pigeon walking around with spaghetti stuck to its feathers, a grown man riding one of those mechanical horses outside of a bodega. It’s a love letter to this strange and extraordinary city that you’re bound to see from a completely new perspective. — Amanda Gabriele

The Wheel of Time, Prime Video

The second season of The Wheel of Time proved that even a show that costs $10 million an episode can have a slow burn. After a lackluster first season in 2021, the fantasy epic turned things around with a binge-worthy eight-episode saga that not only holds its own in the swords-and-sorcery arms race it’s currently fighting with House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power, but surpasses them in ingenuity. Like all shows cut from this cloth, the characters here are fighting against an ultimate evil; but unlike the others, you don’t have derivatives of heroes, villains and monsters you’ve seen before. Instead, The Wheel of Time offers up a world where women enchanters (called Aes Sedai) hold most of the power, where family houses and Hobbits are traded for more inventive civilizations (including newcomers from across the sea and over the mountains), and where the magic (here known as the One Power) isn’t simply a skill, but the thread that holds the entire world together. If you’re reading all of this and lamenting the fact that TV studios are shoveling money into big-budget CGI spectacles instead of compelling dramas, please take your complaints elsewhere, because Natasha O’Keeffe (of Peaky Blinders), who joined the cast this year as the mysterious Selene, came out of nowhere with one of the greatest on-screen performances of the year. If the Golden Globes had any sense whatsoever, she’d be nominated. — Alex Lauer

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, Netflix

I’ll just say it — Scott Pilgrim Takes Off might just be my favorite graphic-novel-to-video-game-to-live-action-movie-to-anime ever. While this is in part because it’s the only one I’ve ever seen, the eight-episode miniseries, which follows Canadian Scott’s quest to defeat his manic pixie dream girl crush’s seven evil exes, captures all the goofy if not slightly suspect (Scott Pilgrim is dating a high-schooler?) charm that the original product delivered in spades 15 years ago, thanks in large part to creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s direct hand in show-running the project. The series, adapted by Netflix, features voice acting by the entirety of the original cast from the 2010 movie that includes Michael Cera, Chris Evans and Brie Larson (green flag!), an Anamanaguchi score seemingly tailor-made for the indie-sleaze resurgence and some poppy, ultra-fun cartoon-anime-hybrid animation by the legendary Japanese animation studio Science Saru. It’s a quick watch and a total treat, for diehard fans and first-time viewers alike. — Paolo Sandoval

Extraordinary, Hulu

In a world where everyone is special, what does it take to stand out? That’s the loose premise of Extraordinary, a hilarious and genuinely heartfelt British comedy created by Emma Moran that’s currently available on Hulu. The series centers around Jen (newcomer Máiréad Tyers), a 25-year-old costume shop worker who is also one of the few people on Earth who doesn’t possess superpowers. Read our full review here. — Kirk Miller

The Righteous Gemstones, HBO

For my money, Danny McBride’s over-the-top comedy about a dysfunctional family who runs a megachurch is the funniest show on TV these days, and it only seems to get better with each new season. Is it raunchy? Absolutely; the hardest I laughed this year may have been watching Judy Gemstone’s dopey husband BJ spinning his penis like a helicopter in the bathtub in an attempt to seduce her. Is it goofy? Of course. The second-hardest I laughed this year was watching Uncle Baby Billy sing “There’ll Come a Payday” while sporting an absurd powder-blue clamshell suit. But The Righteous Gemstones has a surprising amount of heart, too, and season 3 had plenty of poignant moments as the Gemstone siblings — who are basically a bizarro-world, comedic version of Succession‘s Roy children — put their differences aside and wound up closer than they’ve ever been. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Jury Duty, Amazon Freevee

While a lot of reality TV conjures either extreme love or intense hate for its cast of characters, Jury Duty gave us Ronald Gladden, who turned out to be America’s sweetheart. The diplomatic and unsuspecting Gladden was summoned for jury duty in Southern California, but the rest of his peers were actors, including James Marsden, who played himself. What follows is a detailed trial that is somehow pulled off without a hitch, along with comical and sometimes outrageous side stories that occurr along the way. Gladden, who is named the foreperson, is tasked with keeping an older juror from falling asleep during the trial, helps Marsden rehearse lines in his hotel room and even takes the blame for the actor’s clogged toilet to save him from embarrassment. When the judge reveals to Gladden that the trial was fake after he delivers the verdict, he reacts with altruism and grace, making Jury Duty the feel-good comedy of the year — and reminding us that being able to take a joke makes life a little better. — Amanda Gabriele

Barry, HBO

The fourth and final season of Barry got slightly overshadowed this year by HBO’s other critically acclaimed dark comedy (or is it a drama that just happens to have a bunch of hilarious moments?) that wrapped after four years, Succession. That’s a shame, because Barry‘s final bow is truly something to behold. It still has its funny moments, of course — like, say, two gangs of ruthless killers negotiating a ceasefire at a Dave & Buster’s — but ultimately, it winds up pitch-black, more harrowing than some of the bleakest dramas on TV, as each character’s narcissism, lies or murderous tendencies finally catch up with them. It’s extremely well-acted — it’s deserving of every Emmy nomination it received, even if they happen to be in the Comedy category to avoid going head-to-head with Succession — but if there’s one takeaway, it’s that Bill Hader, who directed all this season’s episodes, is our next great auteur. I’m sad to see Barry go, but I can’t wait to see what he does next. — Bonnie Stiernberg

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