2023 was a weird one. On the one hand, the TV industry had finally started to shake off the dust of the pandemic production halts to deliver a full year of small screen entertainment, though there were lingering effects and aftershocks felt throughout the industry. And then came the strikes. First the WGA and then SAG, strikes that lasted, in totality, from May to November. Or, a good half of the year. While necessary, the strikes impacted the release schedule of many a film and series and so kind of left viewers with yet another lopsided, half-formed year. But it certainly wasn’t still without its highlights.

For the purposes of this top ten list, I’m only considering serialized narrative shows. Which is tough because I would arguably put the most recent season of Australian Survivor: Heroes Vs Villains near the top of any other version of this list for its sheer shock value, series-topping strategy, and the one and only George Mladenov. There are other shows that I watched a bit of and abandoned (Swarm, Dead Ringers, Lessons in Chemistry), some that I watched the whole way through and just didn’t care all that much for (Ashoka, Platonic, the final season of Ted Lasso) and a handful that I quite enjoyed and could have made the cut if things broke another way (Barry, Righteous Gemstones, Jury Duty, Hijack). But that’s plenty of preamble, so onto the victors:

10. Fargo S5 (FX on Hulu)

Although we’re just over halfway through the season, it would be a crime to omit what Fargo has done in its fifth season from this best of the year in TV list. Roaring back to life after a middling third season and an ambitious, if unsuccessful, fourth season, creator Noah Hawley takes the series back to its Coen Brothers roots to explore familial crime and midwest niceties. Featuring a cast that includes Juno Temple, Jon Hamm, Joe Keery, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, this fifth season of Fargo dials up the bloody antics, Coen-inspired humor, and layered crime story to breathe life back into one of FX’s, if not all of televisions, best long-running series. Yeehaw. 

9. Dave S3 (FX on Hulu)

Fact: Dave is the best show that you are probably overlooking. Actual rapper Dave “Lil Dicky” Burd continues his exploration of ego, fame, and 21st century romance in this boundary-pushing third season as he goes on a “Looking for Love” tour only to find more of his neurotic and self-obsessed self. The episodes this season found more room to experiment (like when the tour is stranded at an obsessive fan’s Southern ranch during a hurricane) and comment on the state of modern celebrity (like when Dave attempts to stage a “break the internet” bathroom selfie) but always found room for Dave’s musical talents to shine through (like when he serenades Rachel McAdams.) Even if you’re not the world’s preeminent Lil Dicky fan, get on the Dave band wagon already. 

8. How To With John Wilson S3 (HBO)

John Wilson is on his own wavelength. The third and final season of his offbeat, surrealistic docu-deadpan-comedy is both a philosophical treatise on the human condition and a voyeuristic observation of the weirdest margins of society. His series, whose episode titles always begin with an oddly specific piece of advice like “How to Make Small Talk”, functions as a rudderless, though ultimately organized, stream of consciousness. His initial conceit proves only to be a launching point for whatever rabbit hole he will inevitably stumble into next: be that an Avatar superfan function, the house of a Monster Energy scion, or a grain silo outfitted as a survival bunker. Each episode in the tragically short six-episode season is as surreal as it is genuinely fascinating, making for a work that’s weirdly profound, completely head-scratching, and deeply funny. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we see of John Wilson’s oddball auteurism. 

7. The Fall of the House of Usher (Netflix)

Mike Flanagan’s final collaboration with Netflix may not have been his best (that honor likely goes to Midnight Mass) but it was a suitable capstone to his anthological horror work with the streamer. The horror auteur’s redux of the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name migrates the story to center on a modern Pharma dynasty to tell a supernatural saga of moral compromise and mortal recompense. Assembling his regular cast for what may be the last time only to slay them all in increasingly jaw-dropping manner isn’t used just for shock and awe. No, Flanagan still finds a way to make it all poetic, prosaic, and profound. And, of course, gory as hell. 

6. The Last of Us (HBO)

The curse of the video game adaption is finally broken. Both a faithful and skillfully-made live action retelling of the extremely popular Playstation game that first debuted in 2013, The Last of Us is a perfectly cast and pulse-pounding dystopian adventure that harkens back to the golden age of TV. Stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey find new dimensions for lead characters Joel and Ellie, survivors of a fungal pandemic that disrupted society writ large. But it’s when the series strays into the margins of the game’s narrative, like with the staggering ‘Long Long Time’ episode starring Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, that it finds new life and real artistic purpose. 

5. The Curse (Showtime)

Nathan Fielder. Emma Stone. Benny Safdie. A24. There was almost no way that with a lineup like that that I wouldn’t be enamored with this oddball Showtime debut. Against all odds, The Curse remains irrevocably a creation of its creators, championing the weird, eccentric, uncomfortable, and entirely cringe in ways that only Nathan Fielder can. Fans of his previous comedic efforts may find the transition from fauxumentary to fiction a bit jarring but those willing to hang with the Cherry Tomato Boys through this often horrifying HGTV satire will find all the hallmarks of Fielder’s best work. Add in one of the small screen’s best performances in the form of Emma Stone as a self-important house flipper/eco-influencer and you have a recipe for bizarro success that has left all the strangest corners of the internet equally fascinated and flummoxed. The season is yet unfinished but I’ve seen enough to declare this one of the year’s bests anyways.

4. Drops of God (Apple TV+)

Drops of God, a Japanese, French co-production about the heirs of a fictional wine connoisseur competing against one another to win his wine fortune, may smell pretentious on the nose but anyone willing to take a sip will discover a show that’s both easy on the palate and rich to the senses. The Apple TV+ series trojan-horses a celebration of viticulture into a low-key sports drama with tremendous effect. It’s exciting, it’s electric, it’s alive. Watching an episode while drinking a bottle of wine will make for one of the most pleasing viewing experiences of the year. 

3. Beef (Netflix)

Steven Yeun and Alli Wong each put in towering dramatic performances in Netflix’s breakout hit Beef, about two strangers involved in a road rage incident that turns their lives upside down. What begins as an escalating beef between the leads turns into a fascinating study on the imprisoning idea of modern American opportunity and all the small and large-scale grifts that come along with it. When the series could have remained a one-note odd-couple showdown, it zags to finds new avenues to explore ideas of the simmering rage inherent in our country. A thought-provoking and always entertaining must-watch.

2. Succession S4 (HBO)

All good things come to an end and the fourth and final season of Succession saw the series go out boldly. After some brief table setting, our last encounter with the Roy clan and their nefarious plots went into narrative hyperdrive, really analyzing the title of the show in ways that Jesse Armstrong and his creative cohorts have poked at but never yet confronted. It’s not always perfect but the highs are extremely high and the conclusion is a satisfying slice of schadenfreude. While there will probably never be another show quite like Succession, at least Industry is returning next year so Kendall Roy, if only in whispers and passing remarks, lives on. 

1. The Bear S2 (Hulu)

No TV show in 2023 held as much raw potency, turbulent melodrama, sumptuous highs, and deafening comedic beats in its admirably condensed timeframe as Christopher Storer’s second season of The Bear. Building upon and improving the formula from an already fantastic first season, The Bear expands in scope (including an insanely stacked cast of cameos) while remaining true to itself. It’s a momentous season of television that made stars and pulled icons into its periphery, ran some characters through the ringer while others saw massive personal growth, and overall just represented the staying power of the television medium. Just say yes. 

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