This past year in television will stand out for the extreme highs of Succession’s final season and The Bear’s monumental step forward, but it will be impossible to shake the bitter taste of the big misses in 2023, primarily the much-anticipated entries from the Star Wars and Marvel universes.
My top 10 shows of the year were spread across five different services, with HBO leading the pack with four winners. The field was rounded out with two shows apiece from FX and Apple TV+ and one each on Freevee and Netflix. It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of my favorites were doled out weekly and I didn’t watch anything on network television beside SNL.
I’m apprehensive about the offerings in 2024, as the result of programs getting delayed by the prolonged labor stoppage, a reduction of the number of green lights for new shows, and existing favorites calling it quits.
But enough chit chat, let’s get to my year in television…
Succession (season 4) – This reliable dramedy injects new life into its story by blowing up the world and exposing the core of our main characters, which results in Kieran Culkin and Matthew Macfadyen delivering out of this world performances.
The Bear (season 2) – Experimentation in form and focus elevates this emotional sophomore season into one of the tensest, funniest, most surprising, and grounded shows on television.
Jury Duty (season 1) – A kind-hearted mashup of The Truman Show and Parks and Recreation that had me in tears at the end.
The Last of Us (season 1) – Humanity, creativity, and strong performances up and down the call sheet ensure this tired genre is consistently invigorating.
Full Circle (limited series) – Fantastic world building and unique characters are the hallmark of this tense, fast-paced and lean thriller that delivers emotional payoffs and a fun Zazie Beetz performance.
Slow Horses (season 3) – We’re getting into a groove with our beloved spy rejects in a thrilling season that is less narratively rewarding.
Big Mouth (seasons 6-7) – A return to peak form for this gross, heartfelt comedy about growing up, evolving friendships and being a part of a family.
Chernobyl (limited series: 2019) – A depressing period piece that concisely and comprehensively tells a sprawling tale that reminded me of a version of Apollo 13 where everything went wrong and then the government lied about it.
Dave (season 3) – Successful experiments with a variety of genres and situations keep this comedy extremely fresh and emotionally poignant in its third season.
Hijack (limited series) – A thriller that is reminiscent of the twists and turns of 24, except it is paced better and I actually care about the lead, Idris Elba.
The Next 10
Reservation Dogs (season 3) – An ambitious final season that deviated from the core characters in a way that was interesting and served up impactful standalone episodes, but didn’t deliver the show I was expecting.
The Righteous Gemstones (season 3) – This satirical comedy matured in its third season, striking the right balance of comedy, drama, and filth, while also excising some of the annoying elements from the past.
Rogue Heroes (season 1) – A joy ride in North Africa that is not your father’s WW2 narrative. A tour de force performance from Jack O’Connell and a pleasant surprise from Connor Swindells.
The English (limited series: 2022) – An extremely compelling and good looking western with a strong finale gets buried by too many subplots and odd pacing.
Mr. Inbetween (season 3: 2021) – An addictive 30-minute drama about the challenges of life from the perspective of a criminal for hire.
Beef (limited series) – A spiraling standoff is tossed into the ultimate, addictive pressure cooker.
Party Down (season 3) – I was very nervous about this reunion, but the show found a reason to exist narratively and was still really funny
Human Resources (season 2) – A rare spin off that works and has life beyond a second season. This filthy cartoon mines new emotional depths, break the fourth wall in creative ways, and consistently makes me chuckle.
White House Plumbers (limited series) – Your milage may vary with this creative retelling of history, but Justin Theroux’s performance and the supporting cast tickled my funny bone from wire to wire.
Welcome to Wrexham (season 2) – Compelling stories and characters are front and center in a funny and emotional documentary that approaches the border of being saccharine sweet.
Perry Mason (season 2) – A paint by numbers whodunnit that feels like a waste of money and the cast’s talents.
The Mandalorian (season 3) – If not for the goodwill this show built up over the first two seasons, this latest installment would be unwatchable due to its awkward narrative structure, convenient plotting and disappointing action.
Secret Invasion (limited series) – Possibly the worst and most disappointing entry in the Marvel universe. It looked bad and the plot was a mess.
Ahsoka (limited series) – Almost completely devoid of the fun and emotionality of Star Wars: Rebels, while simultaneously missing most of the gritty realism of Andor.
Justified: City Primeval (limited series) – Boyd Holbrook is the shining light in an unsatisfying reboot that introduces a daughter storyline that doesn’t work, has poor pacing, and fails to capture the crackling atmosphere of an Elmore Leonard novel.
Loki (season 2) – An erratically paced and nonsensical story that abandons most of what made the first season charming.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (season 1) – The scale of the monsters don’t work on the small screen and the plot seems to rely on every tired trope in the book.
The rest of 2023
How to with John Wilson (season 3) – The surprise laughs of this documentary have worn off in the final season, but it delivers more consistent emotional catharsis in its satisfying goodbye.
The West Wing * (season 1-2) – My beloved political drama is extremely outdated, most notably with the storylines for the female characters and the show’s constant optimism.
Halt and Catch Fire * (seasons 1-4) – This workplace drama gains steam and reinvents itself from series pilot to series finales. There are new aspects of the show to enjoy even on the third viewing.
American Vandal * (season 1) – A skewering of true crime culture and hilarious parody of familiar archetypes.
The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special (2022)- A charming take on a familiar story that benefits from snappy music and Kevin Bacon’s charisma.
Mrs. Davis (limited series) – An interesting premise and oddball characters don’t quite come together.
The Great (season 3) -A light, familiar romp that is always pleasant and occasionally laugh out loud funny, but don’t watch for plot or rational decision making.
Top Chef: World All Stars (season 20) – Setting this competition abroad with a roster of compelling chefs from around the world was the recipe to shake this show from its recent doldrums.
Barry (season 3) – A dramedy that generally seemed wholly uninterested in its audience’s desires and expectations, which produced a season of impressive television that – except for a few storylines – felt designed to be admired, as opposed to enjoyed.
Happy Valley (season 3) – A storyline that should have been put to bed after the first season soaks up all the time that could have gone to an interesting crime and new interpersonal drama.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (season 16) – With the exception being when the gang goes bowling, you’re better off revisiting past episodes of this comedy.
The Other Two (season 3) – A surreal take on the entertainment industry that can sometimes be too much, but successfully lands the longer narrative arcs and gives Molly Shannon room to cook.
Dark Winds (season 2) – An immensely bingeable crime drama that makes good use of its scenery, although it is dragged down by some bad actors and a lackluster mystery.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (season 2) – Odd pacing and scattered storytelling priorities undercut the few times this drama shines brightly, like when Adrien Brody is on the screen.
What We Do in the Shadows (season 5) – Rarely laugh out loud funny anymore, but a consistently pleasant and amusing hang that leverages the foundation built by previous seasons.
Minx (season 1-2) – Overly convenient plotting and clichéd characters produced a lackluster period piece that never achieves the promise of the premise.
Quiz (limited series) – A watchable miniseries that breezes through too much of the real-life history.
Beckham (limited series) – A documentary that feels inconsequential and incomplete because of a failure to tackle difficult issues and uncomfortable questions.
Fargo ^(season 5) – Fantastic looking set pieces can’t make up for the show’s poor pacing and uninteresting characters.
Unfinished business: I have complicated feelings about The Curse, which may be the most creative show on television and still be unwatchable. I lost access to the program after four episodes and don’t feel comfortable passing final judgement yet.
^ Season viewing incomplete at time of list creation