Characters from 'Poker Face,' 'The Bear,' and 'The Great' over an NTSC TV test pattern with interference

The Best TV Shows of 2023 Were a Gift to Us All

It’s the time of year when “Best Of” lists abound, but summing up an entire year of any medium is hard. Thankfully, 2023 was a great year in the world of TV and there’s no shortage of amazing choices to capture the best of what this year had to offer.

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For my top 10 shows of 2023, I tried mostly to stick to those that debuted this year, but there were two returning shows with outstanding seasons that I couldn’t ignore. Feel free to discuss the list and tell us your faves in the comments!

10. The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, season 1 (AMC)

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon and Louis Puech Scigliuzzi as Laurent in 'The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon'

I was a big fan of The Walking Dead, but once the spinoffs started rolling out, I became increasingly skeptical. I couldn’t get into Fear the Walking Dead, and Dead City left a lot to be desired, so I approached Daryl Dixon warily, but I was pleasantly surprised! Moving a fan-favorite character to another country makes the action feel fresh as it forces Daryl (Norman Reedus), a character who’s changed so much over the years, to think and behave differently as he interacts with new people, new factions, new types of walkers, and a new culture.

It was also a wise choice to make the central relationship of the show between Daryl and a child in his care (the “Child Savior” thing was big on TV this year!). Daryl was always great with kids on The Walking Dead, despite his gruff, loner demeanor, so building a show around that makes sense. And as much as I loved the flagship show, Daryl Dixon feels a bit more mature in tone and themes than its predecessor. Daryl Dixon has allowed the TWD Universe to grow up and explore new emotional terrain without sacrificing the sweet, violent walker-y goodness we’ve come to love.

9. Twisted Metal, season 1 (Peacock)

Anthony Mackie (Black man with close-cropped hair, thin beard, wearing a yellow t-shirt under a green zippered vest) as John Doe Stephanie Beatriz (brown Latina with shoulder-length dark hair wearing a black scarf and grey shirt under a dark maroon blazer) as Quiet in a scene from Peacock's 'Twisted Metal.' they are standing side-by-side in a dark industrial hallway looking toward something that seems unpleasant.

The first of two video game adaptations on this list, Twisted Metal shouldn’t work as a show. It’s based on a tournament-style game with no real narrative or character development to speak of where your only goal is to drive fast and shoot anyone in your way.

The show, however, has managed to create characters we come to care about deeply, even as it holds onto many of the game’s more gonzo elements. John Doe (Anthony Mackie) and Quiet (Stephanie Beatriz) are a hilarious and heartbreaking team to follow through this bonkers post-apocalyptic world.

And yes, there is a murderous clown named Sweet Tooth (played by professional wrestler Samoa Joe and voiced by Will Arnett) who drives a tricked-out ice cream truck, but even he gets a backstory that helps you understand his journey from being a child actor to a man built like a mountain who kills his way across the country while talking to his best friend, an empty paper bag.

Twisted Metal was one of the biggest surprises of 2023, and with a second season on the way, I hope it stays on the road for a long, long time.

8. Shrinking, season 1 (Apple TV+)

Image of Lukita Maxwell as Alice and Jason Segel as Jimmy in a scene from Apple TV+'s 'Shrinking.' Alice is a mixed race white and Asian teenage girl with her hair in a bun wearing a lacy party dress. Jimmy is a middle-aged white man with short brown hair wearing a beige suit and tie. He has his arm around her shoulder in their home as she smiles and he looks hopeful.
(Apple TV+)

Shrinking is one of the best recent comedies that lean into dramatic situations and themes for laughs. It’s a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful show about nearly drowning in grief until you learn how to navigate the waves and make it to shore.

Shrinking has an amazing cast led by Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, and Jessica Williams, and like many of the other shows on this list, it succeeds because of its attention to character. Even the more outlandish characters are fully fleshed-out, relatable people. In addition to the main theme of grief, Shrinking deftly deals with other mental health issues—appropriate for a show about therapists.

Thankfully, we have a second season of Shrinking to look forward to on Apple TV+, and apparently there is a three-season story arc planned.

7. The Great, season 3 (Hulu)

Image of Nicholas Hoult as Peter and Elle Fanning as Catherine in a scene from Hulu's 'The Great.' Peter is a white man with short, dark hair wearing a black fur coat. Catherine is a white woman with blonde hair wearing a brown and white fur hat and a matching fur coat. They are sitting outside in the snow in front of trees, and Catherine is resting her head on Peter's shoulder as they both look out into the distance.

The Great certainly wasn’t the only wonderful show to have an awesome final season this year (shout-out to Succession and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, two amazing shows that ended after four seasons), but it’s on my best of 2023 list because because of what a unique show it was.

As I’ve written previously, an anachronistic comedy about Czarist Russia based on a stage play shouldn’t have worked. Yet it did, thanks to brilliant writing (and source material) from creator Tony McNamara and inspired performances from a stellar cast led by Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult. The show took exciting risks in its execution throughout its run, with its final season being the riskiest of all. (The Great and Succession have a major death halfway through the final season in common.)

Though losing The Great this year was sad, it went out on a beautiful high note. I’ll be watching Catherine dancing to AC/DC on a loop basically forever. That was as perfect a final scene as a show could have.

6. Lessons in Chemistry (Apple TV+)

Image of Lewis Pullman as Calvin and Brie Larson as Elizabeth in a scene from 'Lessons in Chemistry' on Apple TV+. Calvin is a white man with short brown hair wearing a white lab coat. Elizabeth is a white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair wearing a white lab coat. They are both standing at a counter in a chemistry lab looking at each other as Calvin adjusts a fluid bag on a stand.
(Apple TV+)

Lessons in Chemistry, based on the novel by Bonnie Garmus and created for television by Lee Eisenberg, is a beautiful and relevant limited series that illuminates the varied ways in which women have to fight harder to excel, as well as the importance of human connection.

Brie Larson, who’s made a career out of playing women who will only grace you with a smile if you f—ing earn it, is perfect as Elizabeth Zott, a chemist who ends up hosting a popular cooking show in the 1960s, empowering women by teaching them the science of cooking and encouraging them to pursue their greatest aspirations.

Meanwhile, the show’s relationships, from Elizabeth’s romantic relationship with Calvin (Lewis Pullman), her friendship with her neighbor Harriet (Aja Naomi King), to her relationship with her daughter Mad (Alice Halsey), all add up to create Elizabeth’s success. Every character’s success or failure is determined by the relationships in their lives—the “chemistry” between people, if you will. And that’s an important and beautiful message these days.

5. Poker Face, season 1 (Peacock)

Natasha Lyonne and Benjamin Bratt in Poker Face

Peacock took some big swings this year and brought us one of the best and most creative murder mystery shows ever. Rian Johnson’s Poker Face finally gave us the Natasha Lyonne-being-Columbo series we’ve been clamoring for. Lyonne plays Charlie, a woman with a unique superpower. She’s basically a human lie detector, and while she can’t read your mind, she knows when you’re being less-than-truthful and can call “bulls—t” with 100% accuracy.

This ability gets her in a lot of trouble, but it also puts her in a position to help a lot of people. While there’s a central storyline of Charlie trying to escape people trying to kill her, the show also operates as a case-of-the-week series. Every episode starts with its own murder, and then once we see the murder happen, we go back and see all the events from Charlie’s point of view, following her as she ends up stumbling onto the crime and helping to solve it.

The writing and direction are flawless, Natasha Lyonne gives a fascinating performance as Charlie, and the whole thing is such a breath of fresh air in the current TV landscape. Thankfully, Peacock ordered a second season shortly after the season 1 finale.

4. A Murder at the End of the World, season 1 (FX / Hulu)

Emma Corrin as Darby Hart in 'A Murder at the End of the World'

One of the year’s best shows didn’t premiere until last month, but it’s already compelling as hell. If you love Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij because of The OA or their films The Sound of My Voice and The East, their new show A Murder at the End of the World will be right up your alley.

Emma Corrin plays Darby Hart, a true-crime author and amateur sleuth/hacker who’s invited to a mysterious conference of brilliant minds by tech billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen), who happens to be married to Darby’s hacker idol, Lee Andersen (Brit Marling). As the title suggests, there’s murder at the end of the world, which refers to the remote location of the retreat rather than an apocalyptic premise. However, the apocalypse is evoked, as the devastating effects of climate change (and what can be done about them) are discussed often.

Marling and Batmanglij are excellent at making strange, esoteric worlds feel lived-in and thoroughly human, and Emma Corrin is giving a terrific, compelling performance. Whether you’re into murder mysteries, hacker culture, or just good drama with a unique love story at its center, A Murder at the End of the World will scratch all those itches.

3. Beef, season 1 (Netflix)

An Asian woman and man lean out the window of their respective cars with vengeful looks on their faces.

Beef, starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, was one of 2023’s most fascinating and unique offerings. It gave us two nuanced, screwed-up characters in Danny Cho and Amy Lau who, in spite of their flaws and their disproportionate obsession with taking each other down, manage to remain completely relatable.

As TMS‘ Madeline Carpou wrote, what sets Beef apart isn’t just the frenzied battle between the show’s two leads, but its incisive commentary on class. Yes, these characters are flawed, but in addition to the social and cultural aspects of their lives (Beef deals with gender, being Asian in the U.S, the intersectionality of being both Asian and Christian), what impacts their lives—and their outsized response to road rage—the most are their individual relationships to money, class, and status.

While it’s unclear whether Beef will receive a second season, season 1 is absolutely worth a binge-watch if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.

2. The Bear, season 2 (FX / Hulu)

A Black woman with a worried look on her face reacts to a conversation she is having.

The Bear‘s first season was a huge success in 2022, but this year’s second season elevated it into the stratosphere creatively and culturally. The first season primarily stuck with its protagonist, Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), with the rest of the superb cast of characters serving the central story of “whether he can save the family restaurant.” The Bear‘s second season wisely incorporated deeper journeys for every character—Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney and Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s Richie, among them—allowing the success or failure of their new dining enterprise to be a true group effort.

What’s wonderful about this show is that it finds the vulnerability, love, and kindness in even the most closed-off and hard-edged characters. Every single person on this show is emotionally damaged in some way, and yet season 2 allowed them to grow, evolve, and find their connections to each other in newer, healthier ways. They all still have plenty of work to do, but I am completely invested in watching every single one of them do that work.

We can’t wait for season 3 of The Bear!

1. The Last of Us, season 1 (HBO)

Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal together as Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us

The Last of Us debuted on HBO aaaaall the way back in January, which is basically forever ago in TV time. It’s almost hard to imagine that before this year, there was a world in which Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey didn’t exist as Joel Miller and Ellie Williams; a world where Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett didn’t definitively embody Bill and Frank in a gorgeous episode written by Craig Mazin and directed by Peter Hoar; a world where Tess (played with perfect bi wife energy by Anna Torv) wasn’t one of the most awesome and important characters in TLOU; and where Henry’s little brother Sam (played beautifully by Keivon Woodard, please protect this child at all costs) wasn’t always deaf.

Thankfully, we now live in a world where all these things are true. When TLOU game creator Neil Druckmann teamed up with co-creator and showrunner Mazin, they created not only a beautiful TV adaptation of a beloved video game, but a brilliant and beautiful show in its own right.

Season 2 doesn’t start filming until February 2024, which means we’ll likely see it in 2025. Still, that means you have plenty of time to watch (or re-watch) The Last of Us‘ nine-episode first season and rejoice with us as it celebrates its 24 nominations at this year’s Emmy Awards.

What shows were your faves this year?

(featured image: Peacock / FX / Hulu / The Mary Sue)

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.