The 10 best TV shows of 2023 so far

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(Credit: Netflix)

From The Last of Us and The Diplomat to Silo and The Bear, Caryn James and Hugh Montgomery pick the year’s greatest programmes to watch and stream right now.

(Credit: HBO/Sky)

1. The Last of Us

Just when it seemed there wasn’t room for one more post-apocalyptic drama or video-game adaptation, The Last of Us came along. The story involves terrifying mushroom-headed zombies, but they are the least of the reasons for the show’s impact. The series brings deep humanity and emotion to its tense survival story, centred on the relationship between Joel (Pedro Pascal), a bereaved father, and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), the orphaned girl he reluctantly agrees to take cross-country to safety. As they travel west across what was once the US, the changing landscape and characters they encounter add range and variety. An episode starring Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett whose relationship endures over the decades after the apocalypse is already one of the year’s most poignant. A meeting with Joel’s lost brother is satisfying yet fraught with loss by the end. Pascal has gotten a well-deserved mainstream breakout with the role, as he grounds the genre elements with a powerful, realistic performance, earning him an Emmy nomination. The Last of Us speaks eloquently to people who never knew it was a video game in the first place. (CJ)

Available on Max in the US and Now in the UK

(Credit: Alamy)

2. Poker Face 

Sometimes a concept for a show is just so inspired, there’s simply no way it can fail. Such is the case with this murder-of-the-week series from Knives Out creator Rian Johnson, which came about in the first place following of a casual dinner conversation between him and star Natasha Lyonne about their love of detective shows. One of Hollywood’s most inimitable stars, Lyonne is an absolute dream here as the insouciant Charlie, a cocktail waitress on the run who finds herself travelling around the US, inadvertently getting involved in murder cases that could do with her mental acuity and unique ability to detect when someone’s lying. She is, in her scrappy, wisecracking energy, a female Columbo; and as with that classic series, we see the murder at the beginning of each episode – so that it’s not a whodunnit, but a howdunnit. And there is something singularly soothing about watching Lyonne put the pieces of the puzzle together, before hitting the road once more. True episodic TV of the old school, it is one of the year’s simplest and purest pleasures. (HM)

Available on Peacock in the US and Now in the UK

(Credit: Apple TV+)

3. Shrinking

Harrison Ford, in unlikely but brilliant comic mode, would be reason enough to watch this series, but Shrinking does something unexpected, and challenging to pull off. It balances a heartfelt dramatic tone in a story of grief with very funny, character-based humour. Jason Segel, also one of the series’ creators (along with Ted Lasso’s Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein), plays Jimmy, endearing but at times useless therapist. A year after his wife died, he decides to tell his patients how to run their lives. Much of the wit comes from the way his colleagues try to save him from himself; Ford brings perfect deadpan delivery to the role of senior therapist who is also Jimmy’s irascible friend and mentor. Jessica Williams is another colleague, and together, she and Ford can make a disagreement about how much water to drink in a day a comic delight. As the characters reveal more and more flaws, they also become more likable in all their imperfections. (CJ)

Available on AppleTV+ internationally

(Credit: HBO/Sky)

4. Succession

In its fourth and final season, the penetrating saga of money, power and family dysfunction lived up to its grand ambitions, scooping 27 Emmy nominations. The episode in which Logan Roy (Brian Cox, creating an indelible character) dies is an artistic gem in itself, focused not on the dying man but his distant, distraught children, brought to life by Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin with unsettling depth. In the end, the question of which Roy child would succeed their father to lead the Waystar Royco media empire was answered in a surprising way, emphasising the idea that no one holds power forever. Succession’s portrait of greed and the changing media landscape is unrivalled, but creator Jesse Armstrong’s most brilliant move was to embody it all in one broken family. Succession holds a secure place among the best series of all time. (CJ)

Available on HBO and Max in the US and Now in the UK

(Credit: Netflix)

5. Beef

If this Netflix show was sold as a “road rage drama”, then the moment at which LA residents Amy (Ali Wong) and Danny (Steven Yeun) clash in a car park is really just a starting point for a darkly funny series in which events spiral out of control in unexpected ways, as their lives become evermore intertwined. For those who are yet to catch it, it wouldn’t do to give too much more away about what happens, except to say the social satire of the earlier episodes doesn’t prepare you for some moments both gruesome and surreal later on. Wong and Yeun are both astounding, from different sides of the class divide but equally highly-strung, and are backed by a superb ensemble of supporting actors, from Maria Bello as a Gwyneth Paltrow-esque lifestyle entrepreneur to Young Mazino as Danny’s sweet, himbo younger brother Paul. At a time when Netflix has been cutting back on genuinely bold and subversive content, this stands out as a rare gem. (HM)

Available on Netflix internationally

(Credit: Alamy/Amazon Prime)

(Credit: Alamy/Amazon Prime)

6. Dead Ringers

In both her role choices and screen presence, Rachel Weisz is consistently one of our most compelling stars – so to get two of her for the price of one in this adaptation of David Cronenberg’s 1980s film of the same name about identical twin gynaecologists is a treat indeed. And boy, does Weisz make the most of her dual roles: as the shy, upstanding Beverly and the decadent, unruly Elliot, joint founders of a state-of-the-art birthing centre, she offers a masterclass in contrasts, while attacking the latter character with particular relish. In fact, this whole reimagination of the source material is inspired, from Alice Birch’s caustically funny, scalpel-sharp script to the stunning cinematography and a memorable supporting performance from Jennifer Ehle as an amoral billionaire funder who makes Succession’s Roy family look like the Brady Bunch. Altogether, it makes for a darkly alluring psychological thriller that is certainly among the best and most daring drama series that Amazon has ever produced. (HM)

Available on Prime Video internationally 

(Credit: Netflix)

7. The Diplomat

One of the smartest political thrillers in years, this timely series combines international intrigue, suspense and even car bombs with personal drama. Keri Russell bristles with no-nonsense energy as a career US diplomat who suddenly finds herself ambassador to the UK. She lands in the middle of behind-the-scenes wrangling about terrorism and who to blame for the bombing of a British ship, providing more stresses and strains to the backdrop of her crumbling marriage. Rufus Sewell is all charm as her unreliable diplomat husband, who has ambitions of his own. Their scenes together are models of grown-up drama, as their relationship depends on political optics as well as emotions. The Diplomat’s creator, Debora Cahn, was a writer on The West Wing, but this bracingly fresh series has none of that show’s gushy patriotism. Its sharp view of politics, bordering on cynical, is perfectly suited to the world today – and packed with twists and explosions, it’s also exhilarating to watch. (CJ)

Available on Netflix internationally

(Credit: BBC)

8. Happy Valley

TV cops are ten a penny, but none feels quite so real as Catherine Cawood, the simultaneously indomitable and fragile northern English policewoman played by Sarah Lancashire in Sally Wainwright’s scintillating procedural, which came to an end with a belter of a third series. Seven years on from the last run, the story picks up with Catherine having trouble with her now teenage grandson Ryan – and his dad, the evil criminal Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), banged up in prison. But for how much longer? As ever, what Wainwright does so masterfully is balance the suspense of the plot with a lived-in portrait of the small Yorkshire town, Hebden Bridge, where it’s set. And at its heart, Lancashire is simply electric, as a person fighting to keep her family and community safe, who you absolutely would not want to cross. (HM)

Available on AMC+ in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK

(Credit: Apple TV+)

9. Silo 

Apple TV+ has become perhaps the most consistently quality streamer of late, and here is another great new series: a dystopian sci-fi show, based on the books by author Hugh Howey. Set in the future, it finds humankind retreated to a big underground silo to live as the world outside becomes apparently uninhabitable. But its residents are kept in the dark as to exactly what happened to drive them there and more besides – until various people, including Sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo) and engineer Juliette (Rebecca Ferguson) begin to get suspicious about the whole regime and the lies it might be telling. The whole thing is beautifully conceived, from the production design of the shut-off, concrete world to the intriguing plotting. As John Nugent in Empire magazine says: “it is a riveting puzzle-box mystery of a series, which across its ten episodes borrows elements of Swiftian satire, chilly Cold War-era political conspiracies, dusty small-town Western showdowns, doing-the-work police procedurals, and even philosophical thought experiments.” And if that doesn’t entice you, what will? (HM)

Available on Apple TV+ internationally

(Credit: FX/Disney)

10. The Bear

The Bear made an audacious move in its second season, as chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) closed the sandwich joint The Beef and went about replacing it with an upscale restaurant, The Bear. That risk played out across the entire dynamic season, which slowed down the kitchen intensity and instead offered deeper dives into the characters’ lives and pasts. A highlight is the Christmas Eve episode, a flashback featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as Donna, Carmy and Sugar’s (Abby Elliott) emotionally troubled mother, who prepares the family dinner with a chaotic energy that mirrors her son’s. Cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) has his own stellar episode and learning curve when he spends a week working at a Michelin-level restaurant. Carmy falls in love, and it’s a sign of the show’s strength that we’re disappointed but not surprised when the relationship goes wrong. Along with its kitchen scenes and dishes from food-stylist heaven, The Bear presents its engaging, confused, multi-layered characters from the inside out. (CJ)

Available on Hulu in the US and Disney+ in the UK

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