The Best TV Shows of 2023

I’m a couple of days late, but I can’t really get into a new year without completing my annual tradition of covering the best TV shows of the previous year. “My” tradition. Like I’m the only person who makes a Best Of list. Seventeen years of putting these online and I’m running out of ways to introduce the world’s simplest concept. It’s my Top 25 TV Shows of 2023. You get it.

Just a couple notes – it gets a little too granular when you get near the low end of the list, so I’m only ranking 1-15 and then 16-25 are just in alphabetical order. Is there a huge difference between 17 and 22? Not really. I also left some things off that definitely warranted a spot on the list. One-shots like Joe Pera: Slow and Steady and the Venture Bros. finale Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart didn’t make the cut just because it’s hard to compare specials and movies to series. Similarly, the Doctor Who specials were pretty great, but I had to institute a minimum number of episodes. I also left off The Curse and Fargo because both seasons were still ongoing as the year turned over. The Curse especially is really going to depend on whether it sticks the landing but honestly, this was kind of a big year and the strikes went on long enough that it’s going to result in less content in 2024. I’m saving a couple of easy Top 10 entries for next time around. I realize this is basically me acknowledging that there are thirty entries on my Top 25. Let’s just get to it before I start adding more. 

Archer – The animated spy comedy wrapped up this year after fourteen seasons and, man, I would have watched another fourteen. Even after three alternate reality seasons, the passing of two cast members, and a change in showrunners, Archer stuck around as a favorite. There’s never a time when I regretted sitting down with Sterling Archer and the independent spy agency formerly known as ISIS (This show was on for so long that there was time when that name was OK). This final season was more of what I love, with the annual return of recurring nemesis-turned-grudging-friend Barry resulting in his most ridiculous iteration as a sentient ice machine, a final moment that shut down the agency for good, and a new foil for Archer in ex-Interpol agent Zara Khan (Natalie Dew). Luckily, we got Into the Cold, a special event that sent the gang on one last mission. We got more Barry, the return of Archer’s late/cyborg fiancée Katya, Patrick Warburton’s Rip Riley, and the Christian Slater-voiced CIA rogue who may or may not actually be Christian Slater. It was a big adventure that really felt like the end and then they set up a new status quo that, you know, could really be good for a miniseries a couple of years down the line. Thanks for everything, guys! (FXX)

Disenchantment We’ve got a lot of final seasons to talk about this year and Matt Groening’s other animated genre series wrapped up in fine fashion. The fantasy pastiche was heavily serialized, resulting in a fifty-part story. And the ten episodes of this season are largely inscrutable without having watched everything else. The jokes still land – Eric Andre’s Lucie in particularly is one of TV’s great little shits. But these things are heavy on backstory and callbacks. It’s not a casual watch and the audience that is going to enjoy both the sometimes fantastically dumb humor and still track the continuity and character motivations is probably minimal. But I made my home on that particular Venn Diagram and I loved it right up to the end. (Netflix)

Doom Patrol – Somehow this show made it four full seasons on two different streaming services. And this final year was weird. And, you know, we’re talking about the Doom Patrol. Their baseline is energy parasites, sex ghosts, Muscle Mystery, a man with a birdcage for a heart, and a sentient genderqueer teleporting street. Still, this season hopped the rails. For most of its run, Patrol took its cues from the iconic Grant Morrison run in the comics, also dipping into the work of Arnold Drake, Rachel Pollock, and Gerard Way. But there were always differences and as it diverged more and more from canon, this last set of episodes didn’t have any precedent or roadmap and so no matter how much you know about the Doom Patrol, you’ve never seen any of this before. And it was janky. That’s a given, but the budget was clearly minimal this season but the ideas were wild. There was a full-on musical episode, multiple apocalyptic futures, and some well-earned closure for my favorite weirdos. In all fairness, it probably resulted in the weakest season but I still loved it and I was in tears at the end. (MAX)

Jury Duty – There was no reason this should have been good. A show where one regular guy thinks he’s serving on a jury, but everybody around him is actually an actor. We’ve seen the reality show where one person isn’t in on it and it’s usually mean-spirited and dreadful. But Jury Duty succeeds by not trying to embarrass Ronald. It puts him in weird situations with bizarre people and hopes that his reactions are funny. And they picked the right guy, because Ronald proved time and time again to be a sweet guy who tried to help and treated his fellow jurors with understanding and kindness. I don’t like pranks, but there was never a time when the joke was on him. It was totally charming and silly, with James Marsden stealing the show as a Hollywood douche version of himself. Just an absolute delight. (Freevee/Amazon)

The Last of Us – This show doesn’t need me talking about it. It was a giant hit that’s on everybody’s list. I don’t have much to add, but it’s impressive that this is a post-apocalyptic “zombie” show and it somehow doesn’t become a right-wing wet dream. The genre lends itself to certain tropes that really feel like MAGA fables. (The Walking Dead went so far down this road that there was no coming back.) The road trip structure means it’s not all about tribalism, and the weird aggression of the transformed humans seems so much more relevant and scary than mindless shambling. It’s a good show in a genre I would have thought unsalvageable, and Nick Offerman deserves multiple Emmys for his one episode. (HBO/Max)

Minx – Very nearly a casualty of the HBO content cull, Season Two of Minx was cancelled after it was finished and before it had aired. Luckily, Starz stepped in to save this period piece about elevated smut. This season was a little more uneven for me – it never felt like there was a clear arc. Joyce and Doug disagree about the direction of the magazine and/or the business but then come to an understanding over and over again. But that’s a pitfall of this kind of storytelling. Season One is about that time when it’s a fight just to get an issue out, a hypothetical Season Three would be about when things kind of blow up and the price of success. And that means there’s a middle season about the day to day maintenance. But if that leads to some plot repetition, the character arcs are where this season shined. Supporting players Lennon Parham, Jessica Lowe, and Oscar Montoya all made huge impressions this year and it feels more like a true ensemble piece now. And it’s the only show on TV with a C plot about dudes getting tennis rackets stuck on their genitals. (Starz)

Platonic – I almost missed this one, but friend of the pod Hayley Leier (check out ADHD-DVD) had this one her list and I had to check it out. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne reunite as a pair of platonic friends who grew about over the years. She reaches out when his marriage falls apart and they reconnect, and they pick up where they left off in both positive and negative ways. It’s a simple premise with incredibly appealing stars and it feels so real. It feels like a real male-female friendship. My best friend is a fancy married lady and I’m a schlubby screw-up, so this really hit home with me. It’s sweet and funny with a whiff of sadness around the edges. It felt like a miniseries, but they just announced a second season and I’m looking forward to it. (Apple+)

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off ­– This animated series reunites the entire cast of the 2010 movie, including everybody who got way more famous afterwards (Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza). The first episode follows the opening of the movie and the graphic novels pretty much beat-for-beat (Seven Evil Exes, video game logic, you get it) but then SPOILEE WARNING! Scott loses the first battle and then it becomes an entirely different thing. It’s much more Ramona’s story this time around, but it greatly expands on the supporting roles to great effect. It’s touching and crazy and it’s a very 2023 take on the material. The movie (less so the graphic novels) kind of lets Scott off the hook for the ways in which he’s terrible, partly because there’s almost so much time and partly because Michael Cera is charming. But the most charitable take on the character is that he has some serious growing up to do and he could either turn out OK or be an absolute nightmare man, and that’s addressed here. It’s a smart update of something that was already pretty great. (Netflix)

Taskmaster – Another Hayley rec, I watched all sixteen season of this British comedy game show this year, but only the two seasons that aired this year are eligible in terms of ranking. Pedantry aside, this is some of the most fun I’ve had all year. Five comedians are given, well, tasks with varying degrees of opacity. Whoever does said task the best gets the points. It rewards lateral thinking and just absolute madness, but some of the best moments come from somebody just spectacularly failing. (Poor Nish Kumar, who had good ideas but the worst luck and every misstep was accompanied with a shout of “piss and shit!”) It’s all on YouTube for free and it’s well worth watching. You’ll never have a bad time with Taskmaster. (Channel 4/YouTube)

Yellowjackets – Look, I’m here to celebrate my favorite shows of the year but I have to acknowledge that Yellowjackets had a bit of a sophomore slump. Still enjoyed it but I wasn’t constantly thinking about it in between episodes. It’s a bit of that middle chapter syndrome again, and it didn’t help that the present day arc involved the women falling into the thrall of a fellow survivor with no compelling reason why they should. We still got fantastic performances all around and the flashbacks managed to stay riveting and increasingly creepy. Fingers crossed for a rebound next time! (Showtime)

15. How to with John Wilson – This is already the fourth final season on the list and there are more coming up. The “In Memoriam” section is so long this year!  This absolutely lovely docuseries just kept doing what it does best, sending John to investigate a simple topic that takes him on surprising diversions, accompanied by an absolutely magnificent collection of footage. Learning “How to Work Out” ends up at a pumpkin growing contest. “How to Watch Birds” climaxes with John admitting that they simulated a shot in a previous episode and then faking his own death. (Well, faking even that. When Nathan Fielder is a producer, that’s gonna happen.) It’s a truly wonderful show and I would urge you to seek it out. (Max)

14. What We Do in the Shadows – This faux documentary (there’s a word for the genre, but I hate it) about vampire roommates in Brooklyn just remains one of TV’s best comedies. It’s a show that’s very smart about moving forward and evolving, but without constantly upending everything. It’s hard to explain, but you could write a spec script for this show without having to specify in between which episodes it takes place.  This season’s meta-plot (familiar Guillermo went outside the group for a vampire bite only his transformation didn’t completely date) might be the best since Season One – sometimes these arcs take a character or characters off the board for too long (Season Four with Laszlo raising Colin Robinson from a baby essentially meant those two characters were tied up with their own thing all year), and this allowed for gradual progress without forcing every episode to be about that story. This is maybe the most boring way to talk about a show that’s really funny and inventive, but it’s been on this list for five years now and I’m running out of things to say. (FXX)

13. Cunk on Earth – What a delightful show! I haven’t seen any of the British Cunk material before this, but this series had Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) taking on a history of life on Earth. The premise is that Cunk is an idiot. She doesn’t know anything. She interviews real historians, science, experts, and generally knowledgeable people and she comes to it as a complete blank slate and asks the dumbest possible questions. In between, there are beautifully written segues and intros that are the funniest things you’ll hear. (On suffrage: “Women had long been tolerated for their ability to excrete new humans from their front parts…. but now women would have a voice in choosing which man would tell them what to do.) And every episode somehow involves the video for “Pump Up the Jam”, sometimes accompanied by fascinating facts. (“This video played five times in a row at the funeral of director Stanley Kubrick.”) It’s perfection. (Netflix)

12. I Think You Should Leave – Tim Robinson’s sketch series returned for another season of six fifteen-minute episodes. That might be the perfect length for sketch comedy. Nothing has room to get bloated. There’s no filler. Straight heat. Just a bunch of eminently quotable instant classics. And this will be a short entry because the only thing I can think to do is just transcribe a bunch of jokes and I already did that on entry ago. It’s great and you’re a dope if you haven’t watched it. (Netflix)

11. The Other Two – Another final season! And let’s put aside the reports that the showrunners were apparently pretty abusive to the crew. I mean, not that this is something that should be ignored but I just want to talk about a show I like and still acknowledge that Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider should probably not have any level of power anytime soon. Or ever. But man, this show. The original premise was a Beiber-style tween goes viral and his older siblings who’ve been trying to make it in Hollywood hitch their wagons to his star. By Season Three, everybody is established and struggling in their own way. Mom (Molly Shannon) has the most popular daytime show in America and sleeps literally five minutes a night. Brooke (Helene Yorke) is an up-and-coming manager who’s desperate to be seen as a good person. Cary (Drew Tarver) is finding some measure of success as an actor, but his movie gets pushed straight to streaming and voicing the first gay character in a Disney animated movie turns into a one-line role with no evidence of sexuality. Plus, you get Ken Marino and Wanda Sykes killing it in supporting parts. It was an amazing show and I hope it’s remembered more for some brilliant performances (how Tarver didn’t get an Emmy nomination, I’ll never know) than for the toxic showrunners. (Max)

10. Party Down – I promise, I didn’t realize I had back-to-back Ken Marino until just now. Yeah, that’s right, the show about Hollywood caterers returned after thirteen years and seemingly did not miss a step. And yes, it addresses how sad it is that people are still trapped in that dead-end job. Henry (Adam Scott) is back because his life took some bad bounces, Kyle (Ryan Hansen) has to come back after a brief time on top after he absolutely blows his role in a Marvel movie. It’s as funny as the original series, and updated in all the right ways. (Do they cater a Proud Boys event? You know they do!) Yes, you get the pandemic hitting at the end of the first episode, which happened a few times this year, but it turns into some great character stuff for Ron. Dang man, Ron. Nobody does sweaty desperation better than Ken Marino. The new cast members click right away (Hello, Tyrel Jackson Williams! Big Brockmire fan right here), and it’s one of the best revivals I’ve ever seen. And this is even without Lizzie Caplan! But when she shows up for a few minutes of the finale, it’s absolutely electric and all I want is another season where she’s around full-time. (Starz)

9. The Righteous Gemstones – Man, this was a big comedy year. Season Three of Gemstones was just as satirical and even more over the top than previous seasons. It’s a show that has a really smart take on evangelical politics but will also have a five-minute monster truck chase. And as perfectly cast as the Gemstones are, a couple of supporting cast members really stole the show. Tim Baltz as BJ spent the season trying to win back his wife and avenge an indiscretion. He’s so wonderfully sincere and inept at the same time and he manages to steal the show even in a cast of professional scene stealers. And Walton Goggins’ wonderfully deranged Uncle Baby Billy had the bit of the year with his religious trivia game show Baby Billy’s Bible Bonkers. It’s just fun to say! I know I’m not getting into the plot that much, but this show is so good at building on the Gemstones’ past and bringing unsavory characters and distant relatives and putting the family under the gun right until the last moment. I’ve been introducing this show to friends and just having the time of my life. (HBO/Max)

8. Futurama – Now this is how you revive one of my favorite shows! The Planet Express crew came back from cancellation yet again with a new batch of episodes reuniting the original cast and picking up where they left off. Sort of – there’s some handwaving to address how much time has passed and the first couple of episodes feel like they have a checklist of new things they want to make jokes about but once that’s out of everybody’s system, they settle in to the Futurama groove. There’s a time travel Christmas episode, an absolutely ridiculous installment where every segment reimagines the cast as a type of toy (wind-ups, Hot Wheels, rubber ducks), and an incredible season finale about a simulated universe. Fry and Leela’s relationship continues to build and hit surprisingly realistic roadblocks, the longstanding use of villain Mom as an Amazon analogue pays off big time, and they touch on so much continuity in a way that I think is fun but not off-putting. But I know a lot about Futurama so I might not be the one to make that call. It was tremendous and lived up to all my expectations. I’m hoping this incarnation sticks around for a nice long time. (Hulu)

7. The Bear – This is the show that improved the most for me this year. I liked Season One a lot. It made last year’s list. But I didn’t have a huge emotional reaction to it. It seemed like a Queen’s Gambit thing where it’s an exceptionally well-told story about a world I don’t know much about. And then this season came along, and it’s spectacular. The one-two punch of “Fishes” and “Forks” were one of the best TV experiences I had all year. The former was a masterpiece of tension with one surprising guest appearance after another detailing a very difficult holiday dinner, while “Forks” focused on Ritchie interning at an upscale restaurant and that may not sound like much, but it’s incredible. It felt like every character had a journey this season and it all culminated in a gas line test that left me shaking. And then a rewatch convinced me that Season One was better than I remembered it being and I think maybe I watched it wrong. This one’s a real all-timer, folks. (FX/Hulu)

6. Succession – HBO had a couple of world-class series finales on the same night last year, and this was the first of them. The Roys pulled out all the stops for a stunning final season. This is the show that killed off Logan Roy early in the season, off-screen, and delivered one of the best episodes of anything all year as we saw terrible people struggle with grief. You’ve got Brian Cox on your show and you don’t even give him a death scene? That’s a baller move right there. It’s sometimes hard to emotionally engage with the show simply because rich people being shitty to one another doesn’t resonate with me, but this season made it feel more real, including a big finale move that was so satisfying. Honestly, it should probably be higher but the subplot about a wealthy family installing a white supremacist as President never really sat right with me. It kind of ruins my fun by bringing in something that, let’s face it, is going to happen within our lifetimes and probably destroy the country. As riveting as that election episode was, it’s not going to age well. Besides that, though? Perfect. (HBO/Max)

5. Justified: City Primeval – Another favorite returns! Timothy Olyphant is back as Raylan Givens in a miniseries that took him out of Harlan County and away from the established cast of the original Justified. It seems like that would be a hard thing to overcome, what with that cast being amazing and all. But Raylan in Detroit is still Raylan, and new characters like White Stripes-obsessed monster Clement Mansell and conflicted defense attorney Carolyn Wilder just absolutely sing. And somehow it works in a world that knows what ACAB stands for. It’s hard to root for a cop who bends the rules in this day and age, and I think City Primeval uses that to its advantage. Things are less straightforward and you have to really think about what Raylan does in the finale. And after that, well, we get a surprise check in with Boyd Crowder. And what seems like maybe a cameo turns into a setup for another season that we can only hope is coming at some point. Because it’s so much fun to see Raylan being Raylan and Boyd being Boyd, but Raylan and Boyd? That’s the absolute best. (FX/Hulu)

4. Poker Face – It’s kind of a bummer that it’s hard to talk about Rian Johnson without people making it about The Last Jedi. (For the record: If somebody doesn’t like it, I assume they’re a Proud Boy and I block them on social media. There’s never been a time when I’ve regretted that choice.) But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Poker Face, the show that lets Natasha Lyonne play Colombo. Like that show, every episode opens with the murder so we know who did it. And while the idea of Colombo is how the fun is finding out how Peter Falk gets the answer, this is something different. Most of the time, the episode is about finding out what that scene actually means. Almost every episode immediately jumps back in time after we see the murder. We get to know the victim and the killer and more often than not, Lyonne’s Charlie Cale is already in the story when the murder happens. How does she connect to it? It’s a storytelling puzzle and it’s really a blast. Charlie’s on the fun so every episode has a new setting and new cast, allowing for some truly amazing guest stars. Nick Nolte playing a version of Phil Tippett? Check. Ellen Barkin, Tim Meadows, and Jameela Jamil together at last? Got it. Tim Blake Nelson, Cherry Jones, Chloe Sevigny, Ron Perlman, Judith Light, Luis Guzman – it’s an embarrassment of riches. And Lyonne is fantastic. Charlie isn’t a detective, she doesn’t have any power to make arrests or the physical acumen to win a fight. She’s just a person who cares and can also tell when somebody is lying. It’s such a simple idea and the episodic style isn’t anything you see anymore, outside of CBS procedurals aimed at your parents. It’s relentlessly cool and fun and one of the best times you’ll have with TV. (Peacock)

3. Mrs. Davis – I couldn’t immediately tell if this new miniseries from Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez was good or not, but I also couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s weird. It’s about a nun and a cowboy seeking the Holy Grail so that the AI controlling society will kill itself. There’s also some stuff about stage magicians, the most ambitious sneaker commercial ever produced, and Jesus shows up. And if you think you have an idea of the tone based on Lindelof’s past work (LOST, The Leftovers, Watchmen), I’m here to tell you that you don’t. It’s more overtly comedic and silly than anything he’s done before while also being mythic and violent. I’ve never seen anything like it before. And as deeply strange as it gets, it somehow hits notes it shouldn’t be able to hit in eight episodes. Margo Martindale has so little screen time over the course of the series but you still totally get her relationship with Betty Gilpin and her return at the end hits as hard as if we’d spent a season or two with her. It’s a show that’s somehow tightly constructed and also incredibly open. Eight episodes and one of them is a hands on a hardbody contest. Mrs. Davis, appropriately, feels like a magic trick and even seven months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. It’s hard to unequivocally recommend because you’ll either be into it or you won’t, but I’m so happy this show happened. (Peacock)

2. Barry – And this was HBO’s other all-time classic series finale, airing immediately after Succession ended. Give us a minute to process, HBO! This is another show I’ve talked about over and over, and at this point it’s understood that Bill Hader is a genius who turned out to be an amazing director. We know the cast is unbelievable and the show is hilarious and devastating. We know all this. I guess the thing I most want to say about the final season of Barry is that Hader succeeded in telling a story about toxic masculinity that nobody can watch and reasonably think that Barry was the hero. As good as Vince Gilligan is, some dudes (and they are all dudes) insist Walter White was the good guy. Even the people who idolize Tonys Montana or Soprano or whichever Joker comes along, they can’t possibly see Barry Berkman as anything other than a monster who ruined the lives of everybody who crossed his path. That’s not to say it wasn’t funny and fun to watch – it was. But I don’t think anybody wanted to see Barry walk away from this one, even as much as we love Hader. Just fantastic.  (HBO/Max)

1. Paul T. Goldman – No contest, my favorite show of the year. It’s not easy to explain. Goldman is a guy who married a scammer. While most people would have a certain amount of shame, he turned it into a cottage industry. He wrote a book about it, including his discovery that she was involved in running a human trafficking operation. Then he Tweeted every director he could find to sell it as a movie. The one person who replied was Jason Woliner (Eagleheart, Last Man on Earth, virtually everything funny on TV in the last fifteen years). At one point, this was going to be a straightforward movie or TV show telling Paul’s story, with Paul (who can not act) playing himself. But it so quickly went off the rails that it’s a show about trying to make the show. And even bigger than that, Woliner and company dig deeper into Paul’s claims and end up interviewing some of the people he’d been, well, slandering. It’s an absolutely fascinating piece of meta storytelling (check out when Woliner realizes he’s part of the story and tries to get an actor to play him) married to a compelling docustory with an unreliable narrator. You get insight into a deeply weird man, a dissection of the creative process, genuinely brilliant comedy, and the moment when somebody’s carefully-constructed reality starts to fall apart. Paul T. Goldman stuck with me all year and I’ve gone back and watched it several times. It’s something entirely new and unclassifiable and somehow essential and dumb all at the same time. (Peacock)

Bring it on, 2024!

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