Advertisement

The 10 best TV shows of 2023 (and 3 worst)

The year's best TV featured dazzling debuts, first-rate farewell seasons, and the funniest show about an organ-harvesting ring you'll see all year.

Even though the TV industry was shut down for 192 days this year due to a pair of strikes, it was still remarkably hard to narrow this best-of-2023 list down to 10. Shout-out to a few runners-up, which would also be worthy additions to your watch list: Mrs. Davis (Peacock) is a religious experience for fans of Betty Gilpin (a.k.a. everyone); Queen Charlotte (Netflix) will have your Bridgerton-loving bosom heaving with bittersweet sobs; and Yellowjackets (Showtime) delivered a killer ending after an occasionally wobbly second season. With that bit of housekeeping over, let's get on with the show(s).

The 10 Best Shows of 2023

10. 'Judge Steve Harvey' (ABC/Hulu)

<p>ABC/Erika Doss</p> Steve Harvey presides on 'Judge Steve Harvey'

ABC/Erika Doss

Steve Harvey presides on 'Judge Steve Harvey'

Steve Harvey is not a real judge, but he plays one in this reliably funny and life-affirming (yes!) quasi-court show featuring everyday folks facing off over small-claims complaints. Judge Steve Harvey highlights interesting but low-stakes cases that hinge more on interpersonal relationships than money. Think a husband suing his wife over her obsession with pickleball (including $500 for pain and suffering due to his loneliness); a mom suing her son because he broke his promise to cut his hair; or two factions of an a capella group suing each other over costly (and sequin-covered) costumes. Harvey — a comedian, veteran TV host, relationship advice author, and self-described “full-blown Christian” — nimbly draws out the issues at the root of these conflicts in a way that emphasizes how the people we love are far more important than material things. The host ensures there are plenty of feel-good moments on the docket by frequently surprising the litigants, like a hard-working stay-at-home mom or a couple whose wedding was ruined by COVID, with lavish gifts and much-needed cash. And everyone leaves the courtroom with a valuable dose of tough love. “I think you all need to find your way back to each other,” Harvey tells a pair of siblings squabbling over a dating app profile. “Because when all these men come and go, y’all still gonna be sisters.” The verdict is in: Judge Steve Harvey is comfort TV at its finest.

9. 'The Curse' (Paramount+ with Showtime)

<p>Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME</p>

Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

Spoiler sensitivity precludes me from saying too much about this tenaciously peculiar kinda-comedy from Nathan Fielder (The Rehearsal) and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems); only four of 10 episodes have aired so far. But taken as a whole, The Curse — starring Fielder and Emma Stone as married TV hosts — leaves an indelible and thoroughly disquieting impression. As hosts of HGTV’s Flipanthropy, Asher and Whitney Siegel’s stated goal is to bring upscale, eco-friendly homes to the working-class city of Española, New Mexico. The locals aren’t enthusiastic, including Nala (Hikmah Warsame, a little star in the making), who puts a curse on Asher after he renegs on his promise to give her 100 dollars. But The Curse’s real curse isn’t some childish hex; it’s Asher and Whitney and Dougie (Safdie), their wretched producer, all of whom refuse to be honest with themselves or one another about what they really want. Come for Nathan Fielder’s (prosthetic) micropenis; stay for the merciless satire of colonialist greed masquerading as modern allyship.

8. 'Harlem' (Amazon Prime Video)

<p>Amazon</p> 'Harlem'

Amazon

'Harlem'

One scene in Harlem’s second season encapsulates everything there is to love about Tracy Oliver’s snappy, savvy comedy about friendship, femininity, and finding yourself. Having just landed a small part in a Hallmark Christmas movie, Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) arrives in hair and makeup to prep for an upcoming party scene. The white stylist (Ursula Abbott) tentatively pats Angie’s natural curls. “I’m thinking it’s perfect!” she chirps, before breezing her way out the door. A stunned Angie sits in silence, flanked by posters featuring the white casts of (fictional) Hallmark films, including Christmas Sail and You’ll Tide Me Over. (Tagline: “Sometimes, you have to settle.”) She’s on the brink of walking out when beloved sitcom diva Countess Vaughn appears to her as a vision. “What about that brown girl that is hooked on the Hallmark Channel?” she asks Angie. “You want her to see you, right?” A buoyant tale of four BFFs — anthropology professor Camille (Meagan Good), fashion designer Quinn (Grace Byers), queer tech exec Tye (Jerrie Johnson), and aspiring actress Angie — Harlem examines the realities and nuances of life as a Black woman with frank insights and savage pop culture parody. Don’t call it the new Sex and the City — seriously, don’t. (The characters literally roll their eyes when someone mentions SATC in the finale.) Just know this: If you’re looking for a delightfully smart, funny series with an authentic point of view, you don’t have to settle.

7. 'Bargain' (Paramount+)

<p> TVING Co/Paramount+</p> 'Bargain'

TVING Co/Paramount+

'Bargain'

A fast-paced fusion of body horror, disaster drama, black comedy, and psychological character study, Bargain packs a lot of payoff into its six sleek episodes. The Korean survival thriller opens with an unsettling vignette: Park Joo Young (Jeon Jong-Seo), a teen girl wearing a short black skirt and a private school blazer, meets an older man named Noh Hyung-soo (Jin Sun-kyu) in a remote hotel room. They proceed to have a detailed discussion about the technical status of her virginity. It’s excruciating, which makes the pandemonium that follows — a black-market organ-harvesting ring! a catastrophic earthquake! murderous gangsters on the hunt for any surviving witnesses! — all the more exhilarating. Writers Jeon Woo-sung, Choi Byeong Yun, and Kwak Jae Min don’t use the natural disaster to vault Joo Young and Hyung-soo into something as predictable as a redemption arc. Instead, they send Bargain’s assortment of venal and untrustworthy characters on a survival scramble that’s so deranged and giddily suspenseful, watching it play out is priceless.

6. 'American Born Chinese' (Disney+)

<p>Disney+</p> 'American Born Chinese'

Disney+

'American Born Chinese'

On the night before his big soccer game, stressed-out tenth grader Jin Wang (Ben Wang) has a dream. He’s on the apartment set of Beyond Repair, a corny ‘90s sitcom whose wacky neighbor character, Freddy Wong (Key Huy Quan), is as problematic as it gets. Just as Jin confesses that he was too scared to help his friend Wei-Chen (Jimmy Liu) find the mythical Fourth Scroll, Jin’s immigrant parents, Simon (Chin Han) and Christine (Yeo Yann Yann), appear and beckon him to the dinner table. “You have to be brave, Jin,” Christine tells her son. “You are all the pieces merging into one.” Based on Gene Luen Yang’s acclaimed graphic novel, American Born Chinese itself merges a variety of fascinating pieces — ancient folk tales, wuxia-inspired martial arts action, pervasive racist stereotypes, and a portrait of one Asian-American family’s experience — into an electrifying, heartfelt saga about high school, friendship, and saving the world. Sandwiched as it was between a raft of Marvel spinoffs and Star Wars brand extensions, American Born Chinese broke through with its stellar cast (including Michelle Yeoh as Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy), endearingly relatable characters, and a beautifully simple message. As Freddy explains to Jin in his dream, “A hero doesn’t always have to have superpowers. A hero is someone who goes on a journey, shows courage, helps others.” Fingers crossed that the execs at Disney+, which has yet to renew ABC for season 2, are listening.

5. 'The Bear' (FX/Hulu)

<p>Chuck Hodes/FX</p> Lionel Boyce and Jeremy Allen White on 'The Bear'

Chuck Hodes/FX

Lionel Boyce and Jeremy Allen White on 'The Bear'

“Yo, you ever think about purpose?” Standing in the basement of The Original Beef sandwich shop, 45-year-old Richie Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) admits to Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) that he can’t see a path forward. “What’s my purpose?” That question — both existential and maddeningly practical — is the emotional catalyst pushing Richie and his restaurant family forward in The Bear’s propulsive and poignant sophomore season. Creator Christopher Storer and his writers balance the ticking-clock narrative of an impending restaurant opening with remarkable stand-alone episodes: Marcus (Lionel Boyce) finds inspiration and his confidence in the meditative “Honeydew”; Carmy, Natalie (Abby Elliott), and Mikey (Jon Bernthal) navigate a tumultuous family Christmas in the claustrophobic “Fishes”; Richie realizes that hospitality is his raison d’être in the sublime “Forks.” Serving up powerful moments of hypnotic quiet (Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney lovingly crafting the platonic ideal of an omelet for Natalie) and turbocharged chaos (Carmy, a victim of his own procrastination, gets trapped in the walk-in freezer on friends-and-family night), The Bear found meaning in the madness of family.

4. 'Reservation Dogs' (FX/Hulu)

<p>Shane Brown/FX</p> The cast of 'Reservation Dogs'

Shane Brown/FX

The cast of 'Reservation Dogs'

When we first met Bear (D'Pharoah Woon-a-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor), all they wanted was an escape — from life in their sleepy reservation town of Okern, Okla.; from the constant (and often cryptic) advice of their elders; from the pain of losing their best friend Daniel (Dalton Cramer) to suicide. Two years and 28 magical episodes later, the glorious coming-of-age comedy from Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi ended with the rez dogs understanding and embracing the gift of community. The past was a constant presence in the dreamy, penetrating final season: The Deer Lady (Kaniehtiio Horn), a spirit who enacts vengeance on amoral men, returned for a chilling episode focused on the U.S. government's abduction and abuse of Indigenous children through federal "boarding schools." The trippy “House Full of Bongs” gave us a glimpse of Okern’s winningly eccentric elders — Big (Zahn McClarnon), Brownie (Gary Farmer), Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek), Bucky (Wes Studi), Fixico (Richard Ray Whitman), and Maximus (Graham Greene) — as indolent teenage shitasses. And in “Elora’s Dad,” Ethan Hawke dropped by and absolutely nailed the fidgety, earnest energy of an estranged parent trying to make up for a decades-long absence over a cup of diner coffee. It's painful to say goodbye to this little marvel of a show, so I’ll just echo the words of Willie Jack in the finale’s funeral: “I know I didn’t get to spend enough time with you. But mvto for everything that you taught me.”

3. 'Barry' (HBO/Max)

<p>Merrick Morton/HBO</p> 'Barry' final season

Merrick Morton/HBO

'Barry' final season


Staring with pleading eyes through a wall of prison plexiglass, Barry Berkman begs Sally (Sarah Goldberg), the love of his life, to forgive him. “I didn’t lie to you,” he rasps. “I just, I didn’t tell you the part I didn’t want to be true.” In the grisly final season of Barry, Bill Hader’s titular hitman sought redemption through revisionism, rewriting his homicidal personal history in real time rather than suffering the pain of true repentance. Though accountability hangs like an albatross on Barry and everyone else in his corrosive circle, they transform their regret into outward-facing rage, seeking vengeance on a world that allowed them to make such life-destroying choices. Season 4 of Barry was TV’s funniest tragedy, one that gave the exceptional cast the chance to plumb the true depths of their characters’ misery. Anthony Carrigan’s NoHo Hank, his polished façade stretched thin over a heart demolished by guilt over his soulmate’s death; Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau, a Hollywood wannabe done in by hubris; Stephen Root’s merciless Fuches, who emerges from his torturous prison stay with a violent distaste for dishonesty. A few additional accolades are required for Goldberg, whose Sally descends into an emotional hell of her own making, only to claw herself back to the precipice of peace.

2. 'I'm A Virgo' (Amazon Prime Video)

<p>Amazon Prime</p>

Amazon Prime

“I’m either a villain or a clown,” laments Cootie (Jharrel Jerome), the 13-foot Black teenager at the center of I’m A Virgo. “I want to inspire people.” In his brilliantly offbeat debut TV series, Sorry to Bother You auteur Boots Riley sends his singular protagonist on a hero’s journey that’s equal parts provocative, uproarious, and inspirational. Emerging from a 19-year seclusion imposed by his overprotective aunt and uncle (Carmen Ejogo and Mike Epps), Cootie balances coming-of-age milestones — like falling in love with Flora (Olivia Washington), a comely fast-food cashier — with the ugly reality of the socioeconomic oppression his Oakland community endures. He’s immediately marked as a threat by a billionaire comic-book publisher (Walton Goggins, wondrously weird) who channels his intense despair into cosplaying as a vigilante crime fighter called The Hero. I’m A Virgo’s fearlessly outrageous narrative offers a dark (and darkly funny) critique of the over-policing of poor communities, the fetishization of law enforcement by pop culture, and the grim connection between crime and capitalism. There’s a lot wrong with the world today, but this year, Boots Riley delivered a dazzlingly original anti-capitalist fable on a platform owned by one of the most powerful corporate behemoths in the world. There’s no other word for it but inspired.

1. 'Succession' (HBO/Max)

<p>Warner Bros.</p> 'Succession'

Warner Bros.

'Succession'

Five years after Logan Roy (Brian Cox) suffered a stroke and catapulted his children into a cutthroat, internecine battle for control of the family business, his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) was struck with a profound and crushing moment of clarity: “He made me hate him, then he died.” In its miraculous final season, Succession laid bare the calamitous effects of Logan’s parenting style on Kendall, Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Connor (Alan Ruck) by giving the siblings the one thing they thought they wanted: Freedom. Prior to Logan’s astonishingly abrupt death in episode 3, creator Jesse Armstrong brought the Roy family together for fleeting moments of connection. “Holy s--t, did dad just say a feeling?” scoffed Kendall, after a somber Logan bemoaned his children’s absence at his birthday party. Was that “I love you” Logan offered his children in the purple glow of the karaoke bar real, or was the Roy family patriarch just feeding their starved hearts a few crumbs of affection to keep them from tanking the GoJo deal? Probably. Even once their formidable father was gone for good, the Roy children clung stubbornly to his toxic playbook, turning every interaction with one another into a negotiation — for power, for loyalty, for validation that they were, in fact, serious people, no matter what daddy said. Offering sufficient praise for Succession’s unparalleled ensemble is an impossible feat, but I’ll treasure Ruck’s wistful performance as Connor, an insider perpetually on the outside — and the only Roy child who almost understood that vying for Logan’s love was a zero-sum game.

The Worst Shows of 2023

3. 'Citadel' (Amazon Prime Video)

<p>Amazon</p>

Amazon

Want to read a really depressing sentence? Here’s Jen Salke, head of Amazon and MGM Studios, lauding the first season of Citadel in May: “Our goal was always to create a new franchise rooted in original IP that would grow Prime Video’s international audience.” Corpo-to-English translation: We want flashy, conventional, easily duplicated content that we can own. Amazon’s plan worked: The overpriced, paint-by-numbers spy thriller starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden as sexy agents fighting a global crime syndicate was popular overseas, and the streamer is already replicating that formula with two international spinoffs. Television is a business, and I’m not naive enough to expect execs to value creativity and originality over profits. But man, at least they used to pretend to care about quality. As the industry melds into one giant conglomerate, expect more like Citadel — less a TV show than a mass-produced unit of “entertainment.”

2. Rehashed IP

<p>Netflix;Paramount+;CBS</p>

Netflix;Paramount+;CBS

Another year, another glut of unnecessary and uninspired reboots, revivals, and (a pox on this word!) “reimaginings.” Showtime’s Fatal Attraction and the Frasier revival on Paramount+ trapped likable actors in flimsy creative constructs, while Netflix’s That ‘90s Show thrust once-likable characters into a purgatory of artless, laugh-track powered nostalgia. Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies on Paramount+ all but sabotaged its intriguing, feminist-origin-story premise with a desperate excess of Easter eggs, but at least it tried harder than CBSTrue Lies, which played like a 44-minute network note. A few IP re-dos rose above mediocrity: Night Court earned big ratings for NBC, and Netflix’s anime Scott Pilgrim sequel became an instant critical darling. You know what that modicum of success means, folks: More rehashed IP! Heading into 2024, my New Year’s resolution is to keep an open mind about the new versions of Fawlty Towers, Matlock, Who’s the Boss?, Baywatch, Ally McBeal… [sobs quietly into hands]

1. 'The Idol' (HBO/Max)

Eddy Chen/HBO 'The Idol'
Eddy Chen/HBO 'The Idol'

The Idol is a fascinating example of what happens when network execs give a hotshot showrunner carte blanche — or, as Abel Tesfaye’s character pronounces it with such confidence, cart-ay blanch-ay. The drama — which was co-created by Euphoria mastermind Sam Levinson, Tesfaye (formerly known as The Weeknd), and Reza Fahim — centers on Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp), a famous but troubled pop star. Just as she’s on the cusp of launching a comeback after the death of her mother, Jocelyn falls under the sway of a charismatic and abusive charlatan named Tedros (Tesfaye). Behind the scenes, The Idol experienced its own power shift with the departure of original director Amy Seimetz, leading to extensive rewrites and reshoots under Levinson’s purview. What was apparently supposed to be a satire of modern fame and the exploitation of female celebrities became a laughable, affected, and morbidly fascinating exercise in soft-core porn. As an actor, Tesfaye is an excellent musician, and The Idol has nothing insightful or interesting to say other than, “Look at how many times we can get Lily-Rose Depp naked!” (It should be noted that Depp is a talented actress and clearly did her best with the schlock she was handed.) HBO wanted the next Euphoria. Instead, they learned a very unsexy lesson: When wunderkinds are left unsupervised, the results can be agony. 

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content:

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.