This list is my way of procrastinating and stealing my colleague Sarah’s idea, who also has a top ten TV somewhere in the backburner. Procrastinating and stealing someone else’s idea is biting me at the back though. I already have an infrastructure to keep tabs on what movies I watch, which I can translate to miniseries, but TV is an unwieldy wildebeest. Try saying that fast. It also doesn’t help that each app has limited ways for me to look up what I watched. But me being me, I did my best to do some tracking, so this list is a good enough ranking of the best TV of 2023.
Before I begin though, I want to give a shout out to the shows that didn’t make the cut. Like Silo, even if it does mix the cop show and Platonic ideas well, Daisy Jones and the Six, which I like because I like anything Stevie Nicks adjacent, Somebody Somewhere for reminding me of what Katya Zamolodchikova said about how there are cool people everywhere. Lastly, there’s Dear Mama for showing two controversial and complex subjects. Anyway, we can begin now.
10. Searching for Soul Food. Available on Disney+.
Cooking or food shows are a dime a dozen, usually flying under the radar when it comes to lists like this. Despite of me not being an expert in the genre, I can confidently write Searching for Soul Food is a great example of any genre to which it may belong. There’s a punchiness to Alissa Reynolds’ narration as she travels worldwide for two reasons. The first it to show how other cultures make soul food, and the second is to highlight Black representation in the places where she goes. One of the show’s best episodes is the one in Peru, where she shows both the resilience of Black, Indigenous, and Japanese people in Peru and South America and how those qualities show up on their cuisine.
9. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Season 5. Available on Prime Video.
Yes, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel do Mei (Stephanie Hsu) wrong by writing her out, which puts the show in thin ice. This is the kind of show where period diversity works only for them to walk it back later. But yes, the show is on this list because I am one of many people to give it the flowers it deserves for entire run. The show, by the way, depicts two Jewish women (Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Bornstein). Both work their way up in the mostly male entertainment business during the 1960s. This is also the first of two shows on this list with a thirty year time jump. Here, it shows how both women became legends in their own right, despite of a fallout between them. Find out if they become friends again by watching the show.
8. Abbott Elementary Season 2. Available on ABC.
Most of the shows on this list take place in real life but real life has its moments. A questionable woman (Janelle James) shows off her surprising skill set, knowing when to be tough or gentle with children as a principal of the titular Abbott Elementary. One of the teachers in that school (Quinta Brunson, creator and lead) and her sister deal with the fallout of growing up with a dysfunctional mother (Taraji P. Henson). And that teacher finally finds love with one of her coworkers (Tyler James Williams) during a teacher’s conference. In depicting America’s hardest working people, teachers, the show’s first season brought a jolt to network television and is one of the few shows that make that service worth having. This season does the same while giving dimension to Sheryl Lee Ralph’s mother hen character.
7. Drag Race France. Available on: Crave in Canada.
A different version of this list would just be the seven different installments of the Drag Race Franchise. That list would, then, have the different reasons why I love each installment of said franchise. But as a critic, I can’t, with what’s left of my conscience, be blind to the messiness that each of those branches have. The only installment that’s the franchise’s Ben de la Creme is France. The show is already in my good books because it has the nicest host (Nicky Doll).
Last season also had artistic lewks and emotional lip syncs – look up Big Bertha vs Kam Hugh, everyone. This season has its own highlights. Most viewers may remember it for its poignant musical or how the right queen won. But my peak moment of the show is the game show mini challenge that clarifies that no, Marion Cotillard didn’t die in Inception because she’s playing Leonardo di Caprio’s wife. Find out why by watching the show.
6. The Last of Us, Season 1. Available on Crave.
Community and love are precarious aspects of real life, and genre texts have ways to exacerbate that precarity. Viewers can see that in the TV adaptation of the video game The Last of Us. We see this especially through the adaptation’s one off characters. A controversial episode has Nick Offerman finding love during the zombie apocalypse. That episode, though, feels rude that there are no clickers stopping the love of my life from meeting me.
Anyway, the show’s main relationship, the one between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), is more stable. Their father-daughter dynamic being less biological and more of a ‘family we choose’ situation. They trust each other for lack of a better choice, Ellie knowing that Joel may have done something more objectionable. This is the kind of cliffhanger that makes me want to wait for the next season, barring an actual apocalypse happening by that time.
5. A Small Light Episode 7: What Can Be Saved. Available on National Geographic.
The Holocaust is an era difficult to tackle because there have been so many miniseries that captured that time. So if one were to depict those times again, they have to add a different perspective to it. Viewers have seen the story of Franks (including Amira Casar and Liev Schreiber) in their perspective. However, A Small Light provides that different perspective by making it about an ally to the Jewish refugees, Miep Gies (Bel Powley)The whole show is solid, save for some silly pop cultural references. But the show makes it relevant to contemporary viewers by how it shows Miep.
In A Small Light, Miep is a thirtysomething trying to fake it until she makes in a place and time when doing so matters. It’s just like we’re all doing today, but she’s doing it with her husband (Joe Cole). I’m also doing something unconventional here by highlighting one of its more heartbreaking episodes. I’m talking about the penultimate one showing Miep unable to stop the Nazis from taking the Franks and the Van Pels to concentration camps. Other texts rush this moment. But dragging it out for an entire episode effectively shows how devastating it is to be defenseless against the inevitable.
4. Fargo: Year Five. Available on FX.
Noah Hawley’s take on rewriting the Fargo universe has him centering each season on a strong female character only for most of the characters to say ‘Ur a girl’ to said protagonist. Season 4 has its defenders whose opinions are valid. That season could have been worse, and the show had diverse people in front of and behind the camera, but I still was right not to trust Hawley on writing Black protagonists. Someone will write a great thesis on Black people in prequels of stuff but that person is not me.
Anyway, Year Five feels like Hawley writing what he knows with his new protagonist Dot (Juno Temple). Well, that’s not her real name, choosing it to run away from the kind of mustache twirling villain (Jon Hamm) that this show always has but somehow better? This also feels like a compromise season with how Hawley incorporates supporting characters like his deuteragonist cop (Lamorne Morris). Playing Dot’s mother in law is Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose out of place patrician affectation warms my icy heart. As of writing this piece, I’m six episodes in and I already love what I see so far.
3. Fellow Travelers. Available on Paramount+.
There’s a sword of Damocles feeling in Fellow Travelers, which is something viewers expect. After all, the miniseries doesn’t just capture the backstabbers of the DC area. Specifically, it looks at some of the members of the 2LGBT+ community trying to stay alive while working in the state department and as journalists. The miniseries looks at these characters during two volatile moments in the late 20th century. The first is during the 1950s, when McCarthyism runs rampant, and the second is during the 1980s during Reagan’s reign of terror. It makes thirty years feel like centuries in a good way.
Fellow Travelers shows how the American empire transfigures within those decades. It depicts the 50s with off white halls where people help each other and varnished party rooms. There, these characters have cocktails with people they’ll betray. The 80s, then, feel like a different America where younger gay men show off their shirtless bodies in gay bars in the Castro in San Francisco. Meanwhile blocks away, a man (Matt Bomer) tends to his former lover (Jonathan Bailey) dying of AIDS. Reuniting, both remember their tumultuous relationship back in DC. The miniseries gets tension right, showing amorality in ways I hope the Gen-Z moralists can understand.
2. The Bear. Available on FX.
Christopher Storer’s The Bear almost wasn’t going to make it to this list for arbitrary reasons. It would have been comfortable at top 11 because of the way it played with form. However, it jumped back to the top two spots because of Fishes. I can actually pinpoint my reasoning this time. I couldn’t stop talking about its already iconic one hour Christmas episode Fishes during the Christmas dinners I had which were, thankfully, relatively normal. The show normally captures Carmine Berzatto’s (Jeremy Allen White) struggles in gentrifying his dead brother’s (Jon Bernthal) restaurant. But outside of that, and there’s a lot of outside, no episode seems similar. Episode lengths vary, explaining either why characters are in the hell they’re in. Or, better yet, how they redeem themselves.
1. Succession. Available on Crave.
Jesse Armstrong’s Succession is the second show on this list where I can talk about the American empire, this time around declining instead of transfiguring. Half of TV viewers likes positivity, which, depending on who you talk to, is or isn’t sincere, and the other half likes to watch the pettiest human being who don’t deserve oxygen and deserve to lose everything they have. Succession shows us the latter and makes its characters watchable. Succession belongs to the handful that reminds me that there’s always a new way to insult someone and to reopen a character’s old wounds. The family head, always at the risk of a chop, is Logan Roy (Brian Cox), putting his children (including Alan Ruck Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, and Sarah Snook) in their places. There’s also a delightful sadism in this show where some characters get to heal, it’s just never the Roy children.
- Rated: TV-14, TV-MA, TV-PG
- Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama, History, Music, Reality, Sci-Fi, Thriller
- Directed by: Amy Sherman-Palladino, Jeremy Webb, Mark Mylod, Noah Hawley, Randall Einhorn, Tony Phelan
- Starring: Alan Ruck Jeremy Strong, Bel Powley, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Joe Cole, Jonathan Bailey, Juno Temple, Kieran Culkin, Matt Bomer, Pedro Pascal, Quinta Brunson, Sarah Snook
- Produced by: Gabrielle Mahon, Greg Spence, Jen Kirkman, Josh Greene, Katie O'Hara, Regis Kimble, Stef Smith, Traci Curry
- Written by: Amy Sherman-Palladino, Craig Mazin, Jesse Armstrong, Kate Peterman, Noah Hawley, William Harper
- Studio: 20th Television, ABC Signature, MACRO, The Littlefield Company, Ventureland, Word Games