It’s hard to believe another year of television has rolled on by.
The season started out hot with a busy slate including “The Last of Us,” “Poker Face,” and “The Consultant” but petered out by year’s end. The HBO original “True Detective: Night Country” got pushed from a November debut date to January 2024. so that left December mostly devoid of new shows.
This year proved that even with the impacts of COVID-19, two Hollywood strikes and stiff competition between rival streamers (did you hear Max and Paramount+ might bundle?) TV’s second Golden Age marches on. There weren’t as many high-quality shows to debut as in recent years (and a few favorites dropped off in terms of quality), but it was still a banner season.
Minor to major spoilers ahead.
Here are the 23 best shows I watched in 2023:
“You are not serious people!” might be one of the greatest lines ever written and delivered on TV. This season started off-kilter (was it going to go out the same way that “Game of Thrones” did?) but then it quickly found its feet and ended triumphantly.
I’d argue it’s in the top ten of best show endings of all time. Easily. Not only did Waystar Royco find a successor but in real life we have an heir to the Murdoch media empire on which the show was partially based.
This was the best show I watched all year by miles.
Fall of the House of the Usher (Netflix)
Not only did I love this show but I also enjoyed the format: Take a beloved American author (Edgar Allen Poe) and remix his greatest hits into an updated, enjoyable retelling.
Take a bow, horror master Mike Flanagan.
I don’t see why this can’t work with other horror masters such as Stephen King, Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and more. And why not American masters such as Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Heller, and Raymond Chandler? I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this show and loved all of the easter eggs for fans of Poe’s work. I think for the first time I truly understood and appreciated easter eggs in pop culture.
The Last of Us (HBO)
I’m not sure if this was one of the better shows this year or one of the worst. At times it felt like the video game it is based on, and that isn’t a compliment. Other times it delivered an interesting take on the familiar zombie apocalypse subgenre. If moral decisions are ultimately what drives a show like this, they did a fine job presenting the ultimate dilemma: would you sacrifice your child to save humanity?
The Wheel of Time (Prime)
Fans of the books are generally against this show, but I haven’t read the source material and the series hits all of my fantasy needs: Major and minor side quests, monsters, interesting landscapes, a band of misfits and cool adversaries. This is the best fantasy show out right now, better than both “House of Dragons” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime)
If you’ve watched the previous four seasons you know how bittersweet season five turned out to be for fans. The show jumped forward in time to close out everyone’s story, and that took a little bit of getting used to. Many wanted just a few episodes with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and the gang in New York City in the 1950s, but time marches on, and I do think that the last season will become more appreciated over time.
The Diplomat (Netflix)
It’s possible that what made this show click wasn’t the story of a couple competing for the same post but the chemistry between leads Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell. They captured the love/hate of a LTR better than any couple in television history. They’re getting a divorce, no question, but they do love each other and partner well.
Perry Mason (HBO)
The show was canceled after two seasons and normally my rule has been to take a show that’s been canceled off my “Best Of” list to give space to an ongoing show but this is where it landed. I really liked this reboot and while I understand LA Noir isn’t hot right now it didn’t impact the show’s quality.
The Gilded Age (HBO)
How good is this HBO original? Well, I never watched “Downton Abbey” but after two seasons of “The Gilded Age” I’ve decided to watch it retroactively (I’ve just finished the first season) and that’s only because “The Gilded Age” is that enjoyable. I like both shows, but I’m thankful I watched “The Gilded Age” first because it’s shinier, fresher and packs better storylines (as true of America).
You can still see the roots of everything that made “Downton” great, but ain’t that America… grittier grit, shinier shine.
Why isn’t this fantastic show set in the late 1800s San Francisco during the Tong Wars more beloved? Do you like kick-ass martial arts? Do you like Bruce Lee and Kung Fu movies? Do you like… oh never mind. It’s just great.
The Lincoln Lawyer (Netflix)
This low-stakes series about a lawyer in LA and his merry band of compatriots is similar to “The Gilded Age” in that the good guys are easy to spot and win often. That feels comforting given the current state of the world.
Gen V (Prime)
“The Boys” is one of the very best shows on TV right now, and this spinoff didn’t disappoint. It’s bloody disgusting in all the right ways and manages to make a point without getting preachy about it. I’d like to believe that “Gen V” and “The Boys” could appeal to a wider audience but who am I kidding… if exploding penises aren’t your cup of tea this isn’t for you.
Blue Eye Samurai (Netflix)
I feel like this subgenera peaked with Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” in 1954 with only the occasional homage like “Kill Bill” worth watching, but this offered a solid update. I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, from the animation to the characters to the accurate history of the Edo Period (1603-1867) in Japan.
Vox Machina (Prime)
Season One made my “Best Of 2022” list, and Season Two delivered a better storyline with less humor but still plenty of good chuckles.
The Law According to Lidia Poët (Netflix)
Okay, I’ll confess. I think Matilda De Angelis is one of the most beautiful women on planet earth, but this “Downton Abby”-like tale about the first woman lawyer in Italy was both funny and had good little capers to solve each episode. Like “Poker Face,” “Lidia Poët” solves each mystery by the end of the episode, which keeps things moving right along.
I remember when the graphic novel that inspired the show dropped in 2015, it got a lot of buzz at my local comic store but I never did end up reading it. That left me unaware beyond a trailer of what this show was about, and it turned out well. The same dead body shows up in four different time periods and four different detectives work to solve the mystery in play.
I wish there was a bit more of how each detective went about solving their case, and how murder investigations have changed over the centuries, but those are minor complaints.
Big Mouth (Netflix)
The show’s second-to-last season reminded us how sweet it can be as well as how harrowing middle school plus puberty was for most of us. Thank God for friends, right?
Rick and Morty (Cartoon Network)
This wasn’t a seminal season for this groundbreaking show but the episode “That’s Amorte” will be in the top ten of all time and “Wet Kuat Amortican Summer” was very good as well. It’s still a great program, but animated shows often lose their edge because they can go on forever. I’m sure “The Simpsons” and “South Park” are still brilliant with great writing, but as S.E. Hinton famously wrote, “That was then, this is now.”
Sex Education (Netflix)
The show set out to tackle sex education in a fun and humorous way with lovable characters wrapped up with a season that leaned into postpartum depression and the challenges of having a baby in your 40s.
The show has done a lot of good exploring difficult topics, but we still need a U.S. version of this show (on a streaming platform, not network TV). Even Netflix itself could reboot the entire enterprise. And maybe original star Gillian Anderson could make a guest appearance. Fingers crossed on that.
Copenhagen Cowboy (Netflix)
I love this show: a bunch of weirdos, martial arts, some strange secret powers and a lot of neon. Oh, and it was set in Denmark but I’m a fan of show creator Nicolas Winding Refn. I think “The Neon Demon” is one of the better horror films of the past decade and the big fight scene in this was fantastic.
30 Coins (Max)
It’s guilty pleasure time. This show is bonkers. An HBO Europe production about a former boxer, exorcist and ex-convict Father Vergara who battles a Vatican faction that is determined to collect all 30 coins (that Judas was paid) because they give the holders of the coins superpowers.
Yup. With monsters, blood and gore.
The depictions of Hell are especially eye catching as are the various sub stories and side quests. If you liked “Evil Dead” I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
I would love to say that the final season rocked and closed the door on what was once a premier saga, but sadly it was merely better than the previous two seasons. That’s not saying much, but it did flash moments of brilliance like Bobby Axelrod’s (Damian Lewis) confrontation of Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) in front of a campaign event that was a cheer out loud moment. I’m glad the show retained some of its former glory before signing off.
The Power (Prime)
The premise of this show is that women evolve with a new organ in their body allowing them to be not only on equal footing with men in terms of physical power, and then some. Men now fear for their physical safety around women.
Before you stop reading just know the show isn’t preachy. It has a deep understanding of the Karpman drama triangle and the notion that victims often turn into villains when given power and a chance at retribution.
Poker Face (Peacock)
Natasha Lyonne stars as a “Columbo”-type figure solving crimes through her ability to catch anybody lying. Each show offers a self-contained mystery with different writers and directors. I didn’t love every episode but the show overall was a hit and can’t wait for season two.
Okay, television viewers what do you think of the list? Did I miss your favorite show? What was my biggest oversight this year?
Do you agree with my choices?
All in all it was another great year of television and for that I’m thankful. 2024 looks promising but I fear this run of great TV can’t last forever, can it?