From the deadpan hilarity of Cunk on Earth to the grim yet liberating adaptation of The Last of Us, this is the list of best TV shows I enjoyed watching in 2023.
Boots Riley‘s I’m A Virgo feels like a breath of fresh air to the superhero (or, safer to say, super-humane) sub-genre. The towering ambition soars high like the super-tall protagonist (portrayed excellently by Jharrel Jerome). Yet, its self-contained narrative is done admirably despite its lo-fi looks. On another note, the second season of the blood-gushing superhero foray, Invincible, deserves a mention for its bravery to subvert whatever it is the first season has been building up. Bold moves from both shows make Gen V subpar in comparison – given the latter’s reliance on The Boys‘ unforgiving mayhem.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off also has all the hearts and clever takes of the original film with a distinct style that, instead of substituting, compliments the O.G. Star Wars universe also has quite a run in 2023 with the third season of The Mandalorian and the fresh Ahsoka bringing the canon to a new direction.
Another show that deserves a shoutout is Daisy May Cooper‘s Rain Dogs. While it’s easy to mistake it for poverty porn (a little too literally if you’ve seen the show), the narrative pluckily exposes systematic abuses by having the protagonist staring at the societal issues right in the eyes. It’s a tough watch, but it is rewarding to those willing to see what the story sees.
10. Cunk on Earth
This deadpan mockumentary gives us a reason to forgive Charlie Brooker for not delivering Black Mirror the way most of us wanted it to be. Led by Diane Morgan as the absurdist, Philomena Cunk, the show delves into the investigative look at human civilization with an impertinent style that almost feels nihilistic – thanks to Cunk’s idiosyncrasy. Morgan‘s Cunk is meticulously written, even when all her interviews have impromptu vibes, making us often forget that she isn’t a real historian or something.
09. Jujutsu Kaisen (Shibuya Incident Arc)
The real hero in the new season of Jujutsu Kaisen is MAPPA. Shibuya Incident Arc is highly anticipated by fans and casuals alike due to its gruesome nature and shock factors. The animation studio knows the drill by heart, understanding all requirements to bring out the mayhem and the thrill to sustain for the whole season. The arc is super solid, with memorable moments stacked up here and there. Under different supervision, the arc could have slipped into a tedious series of events, but MAPPA ensures that’s not the case.
08. Ted Lasso (Season 3)
This might be a bias as Ted Lasso‘s third season (I wouldn’t call it the final season even when all the casts and crews said so) is underwhelming compared to the stellar two seasons that preceded it. However, the third season gives some closure for audiences to finally embrace The Lasso Way. It might be flawed, but it’s as heartwarming as possible. Most importantly, the warmth is contagious.
07. The Fall of the House of Usher
Mike Flanagan‘s back at it again with his creative adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe‘s collections of stories in his recent Netflix original, The Fall of the House of Usher. It’s not a straightforward adaptation, as it stitches together previously unrelated stories and gives them context in a gothic world where The Ushers – led by the patriarch, Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) – become a pharmaceutical mogul. The title is pretty self-explanatory, but that doesn’t take away the excitement. The grotesque nature of the horror isn’t merely mechanical; it’s the Grand Guignol style that embraces Poe‘s chilling terror. Where the horror succeeds isn’t on how traumatizing the visual is or how effective the jump-scares are, but, on how well-crafted the characters are in filling up the wicked world envisioned by Flanagan.
06. Only Murders in the Building (Season 3)
The best thing about Only Murders in the Building is the chemistry between the leads – BFFs Steve Martin and Martin Short alongside Selena Gomez. In a show that could’ve fallen into the formula of boredom, the third season cleverly restructures the narrative by moving it to a theatre without having to cast the iconic Arconia away in the background. In doing so, the show adds a much-needed arsenal to revamp the murder story with flashier faces (that includes Meryl Streep) and catchy musical numbers (composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, songwriters for La La Land, among others). The result is a sweet treat for fans.
05. Barry (Season 4)
When Bill Hader‘s Barry first arrived in 2018, it cemented the actor-writer’s reputation for clever story-telling and deadpan charms. After three seasons exploring a weirdly enticing combo of PTSD, acting, and LA crime, the fourth season provides a closure to the journey that, as we’ve observed in the previous season, didn’t seem to have an end on the horizon. The time jump is painful but necessary; yet, that also allows Hader to showcase his directorial prowess by establishing an enigmatic connection with the characters we’ve learned to love and hate for the past years. It’s a bitter and ironic finale to a show that continues to become thought-provoking beyond the surface. Yet, it’s the best a finale can do without being that flashy and shocking per se. The dark dramedy that Barry keeps getting grimmer as the seasons go by, but, what the finale offers is something else that will reward whoever sticks to the end.
04. Succession (Season 4)
You might find a lot of feel-good shows out there; and, Succession offers you no solace in that matter. The fourth and final season of HBO’s star-studded, award-darling show has established its unredeemable reputation as, quite possibly, the world’s first feel-bad show. Everything has been leading up to this: the ship is sinking, but we are ready to watch it crash and burn. Dropping the bomb as early as in the third episode could potentially be the move we’ll be talking about in years. There’s no dramatic fallout or grand send-off there, but there will be a consensus that Conor’s Wedding is going high on the list of TV shows’ best episodes ever – alongside the likes of Breaking Bad‘s Ozymandias and Mad Men‘s The Suitcase. Each episode between that one and the finale feels hilarious and punishing all the same. Yet, if punishing the rich is your fetish, then this might be it – the perfect show.
Ali Wong faces off with Steve Yeun for a nerve-racking, anxiety-inducing beef – that pretty much sums up the world’s recent state of mind. Two angry people unleashing their anger towards each other might sound like something we could potentially see or experience in real life. Beef takes it up a notch and shoves it back to us as a reflection of what we are as humans. The tone swings perfectly (and at the right time) between being casually violent and hilarious, but still leaving a little space for tenderness in between. It’s a complex look at vulnerability and anger that could spiral out of control when not managed properly; all of that is embraced with a personal touch and cultural perspective that makes the whole journey worthwhile.
02. The Bear (Season 2)
The first season of The Bear sees us enveloped through the internal psyche of Jeremy Allen White‘s Carmy – as we witness his character struggle to re-establish the family restaurant. It’s a packed, claustrophobic drama, but it’s always delectable. Knowing how successful the formula was, the second season could’ve built up on that and doubled the stake – playing it bigger but safer. However, The Bear takes a completely different route to bring the best of the sophomore – by addressing the elephant in the room. It’s always hinted in the first season, but this time, they go all out with these – refusing to play it safe. It goes beyond the confined kitchen, into the past and the future, to reinvent what having the titular Bear means for everyone in it.
01. The Last of Us
Everyone hopes that this adaptation of The Last of Us will finally break the curse of live-action video-game adaptation. And, boy, it delivers and more. It doesn’t just transfer the massive story from the console to the screen; it doesn’t reinvent the narrative – as it stays flawless and intact. Neil Druckman, the creator, and HBO’s Chernobyl creator, Craig Mazin, intends this adaptation as a new media for the same story – but with deliberateness. The sense of discovery that gamers had when playing the game is substituted with nuanced exposition – which subsequently expands the background story of each character. Pedro Pascal is phenomenal; but, the real revelation is Bella Ramsey. This story will always be about Ramsey‘s Ellie, and she’s doing a great job in ushering us to the world of The Last of Us through her eyes. There will be more to come before her eyes, and we cannot wait to be there with her, unraveling this harrowing yet hopeful world.