The 10 best TV shows of 2023

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I tend to fret over my annual Top 10 list, trying to rank my annual favorites in a way that feels just right. It’s agonizing — and yet it’s a kind of pleasure, too, to put an entire year of TV in perspective. Because of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, there may have been fewer releases in 2023, but there were plenty of good ones nonetheless. Here are the 10 series that gave me the most pleasure in 2023, along with my honorable mentions, those shows — “Colin From Accounts”! “Fargo”! — that easily could have been in the Top 10 on a different day. I trust you’ll let me know what I got right, and, of course, wrong.
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It really couldn’t be anything else, even though I would have preferred to make my No. 1 a bit of a surprise. The final season of Jesse Armstrong’s portrait of the one percent of the one percent was a series of indelible moments — in acting, in writing, in plotting. Twice in recent years, the acutely witty HBO drama has made it to No. 1 on my year-end list; but neither of those seasons was quite as dazzling as the last go-round, which included a death episode and a funeral episode for the ages. The absence of Logan Roy after the third episode gave the writers a chance to turn away from his machinations and focus on his damaged legacy, to zero in on his morally poor and emotionally impaired brood. It gave them a chance to dive into the question — and the answer — implicit in the show’s title. The political repercussions of the Roy empire were clearer than ever this year, and the sibling in-fights were epic, as loyalties shifted in the blink of an eye. And the final arrangement of the Roys in this game of thrones was as darkly ironic as anything I’ve seen on TV. Does “Succession” belong up there with HBO’s — and TV’s ― best ever? I’m for it. (HBO, Max)
Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri in “The Bear.” Chuck Hodes
2. “The Bear”
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I feared a sophomore slump for Christopher Storer’s pacy show about a family restaurant moving forward in the wake of a suicide. But he followed up the excellent first season with a beautifully structured series of extreme close-ups of The Beef team as they worked toward opening a new, fancier joint. We saw not only the hard work and planning going into it, but the psychological obstacles along the way for each of them. In a powerful flashback episode, the family drama-I-mean-comedy-I-mean-drama introduced us to the Berzatto matriarch, an alcoholic whose temper and narcissism keep everyone on edge. She is played by Jamie Lee Curtis in an explosive turn that casts a shadow over the entire season. The miracle, though, was that Storer also turned the season into a celebration of the magic of serving extraordinary food. In many ways, “The Bear” has changed the way I experience going out to eat. (Hulu)
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in “The Last of Us.” Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO
3. “The Last of Us”
I didn’t think an action-drama based on a video game could possibly become one of TV’s most emotionally challenging series. I was totally and completely wrong. Yes, there are a lot of violent set pieces in the fungus-infected post-apocalyptic world of the show, with plenty of gunfire, crashes, and explosions. But it’s a human-scaled story, too, that makes stops along the way for heartfelt pieces about finding hope, comfort, and innocence despite the death that’s all around. The core of the show is the father-daughter-like relationship between Pedro Pascal’s Joel and Bella Ramsey’s Ellie as they cross the country to find Joel’s brother, each learning a kind of survival from the other. As the travel narrative pauses to follow a gay couple’s corner of joy or a trip to the mall, there is nothing predictable about the way the show moves. It’s an eerie beauty. (HBO, Max)
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Ali Wong and Steven Yeun in Netflix’s “Beef.” Andrew Cooper/Netflix
4. “Beef”
Nope, I wasn’t expecting to explore the meaning of life in the form of a dark comedy about road rage. But I did, and it was a gas. Generally, road rage isn’t really about a traffic incident; it’s about other emotions — emotions more easily vented on strangers we’ll never see again. In Lee Sung Jin’s “Beef,” though, the strangers, both in middle-of-life crises, become obsessed with each other and keep trying to get revenge. Ali Wong and Steven Yeun are perfect as the clashing couple. She’s a wealthy married professional, he’s sinking into a financial hole alone, but they share deep feelings of shame and loneliness that drive them forward in each other’s lives. Is the show an epic battle of the wills, or is it a flirtation after a meet cute? “Beef” walks the line beautifully. (Netflix)
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Natasha Lyonne in Peacock’s “Poker Face.” Phillip Caruso/Peacock
5. “Poker Face”
Forget about edgy crime dramas for a minute. This throwback mystery series, created by Rian Johnson of “Knives Out,” was an old-school “Columbo”-like pleasure. Natasha Lyonne, as a cocktail waitress who’s able to tell when someone is lying, led us through a series of murders while on the run from an angry casino boss in her Plymouth Barracuda. In each episode, in a different town, she encounters a crime and gets to the bottom of it, even though usually we already know whodunit. It’s a fun ride, helped enormously by guest stars of the week — including Nick Nolte, S. Epatha Merkerson, Judith Light, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Chloe Sevigny, Lil Rel Howery, and Ellen Barkin — playing broad characters. (Peacock)
From left: Brandon Scott Jones, Drew Tarver, Molly Shannon, Heléne Yorke, and Josh Segarra in “The Other Two.” Greg Endries
6. “The Other Two”
I was sad — and yet, also, a bit relieved — to learn that the excellent third season would be this comedy’s last. It left on top, with no chance for a decline in the whimsy and spikiness of its timely satire, which frequently left me laughing out loud. About two siblings trying to be as famous as their talk-show-host mother and Bieber-esque little brother, it’s a brash sendup of swollen egos, cockamamie publicity efforts, and the extremities of fandom. It’s got “30 Rock” in its DNA, along with “Difficult People” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” but it has its own distinctive colors, too. The cast, especially Molly Shannon, Heléne York, and Drew Tarver, give the witty lines and absurd stories all the freshness they deserve, as all the characters discover that fame is a double-edged sword: Having it and not having it can be equally awful.
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Liev Schreiber as Otto Frank and Bel Powley as Miep Gies in “A Small Light.” Dusan Martincek/National Geographic for Disney via AP
7. “A Small Light”
This somewhat conventional Holocaust-era miniseries left me sad, as it should, and anxious about the future, as it definitely should not. What would you do if your neighbors were being shipped to camps, their homes and belongings — and dignity — taken from them? The eight-parter tells the story of the Frank family, including young author Anne, from the perspective of Miep Gies, the woman who, with her activist husband, Jan, helped hide the Franks and four others during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. We see her do everything she can to assist Otto Frank (a gentle Liev Schreiber), her boss and friend, as the show toggles between 1934 and 1945 to capture the gradual but sure creep of evil. Taking a heroic approach to that time is always risky, but “A Small Light” does a fine job, never ignoring the fate of the people hidden in the secret annex, and never turning into a mushy inspirational tale. Bel Powley, with her large expressive eyes, is fantastic as Miep. (Hulu, Disney+)
Emma Corrin in “A Murder at the End of the World.” Chris Saunders/FX
8. “A Murder at the End of the World”
We’ve seen the premise of this mystery drama many times: A group of people are invited to the hideaway of a wealthy man, and someone winds up dead. Agatha Christie, you remain a TV god. But everything else about this miniseries from Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij of “The OA” is fresh and, with notions afoot about artificial intelligence, true-crime obsession, and the lost world of privacy, unusually provocative. Emma Corrin, who was Diana in “The Crown,” is exceptional as a nonconformist hacker and amateur investigator who’s on the case, even while it drives her toward the edge. And Clive Owen is excellent, too, as the billionaire who has created an ever-present AI butler named Ray who makes Siri look like a novice. (Hulu)
Lukita Maxwell and Harrison Ford in “Shrinking.” Apple TV+
9. “Shrinking”
Along with “The Bear,” “Somebody Somewhere,” and “Never Have I Ever,” this comedy takes on grief in the wake of a death. Created by Jason Segel along with Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence of “Ted Lasso,” it evolved into a self-aware, feel-good hangout comedy after a few formless episodes. Segel’s Jimmy, a Pasadena therapist grieving his wife, abandons the boundaries he has with his clients by telling them exactly what he thinks. Life, he begins to understand, is too short to be passive. His friends, all facing challenges of their own, try to help him along, and in the process they form a warm and healing ensemble. The story is meaningful, the dialogue is pleasingly self-conscious, and the timing of the actors — particularly Harrison Ford as a grumpy but compassionate therapist — is right on the beat. (Apple TV+)
Jelani Alladin (left) and Matt Bomer in “Fellow Travelers.” Ben Mark Holzberg
10. “Fellow Travelers”
I might not have enjoyed this epic love story — also an epic look back at gay rights across the 20th century — if it hadn’t been for Matt Bomer’s extraordinary performance. Amid the many historical moments that the miniseries moves through — the “Lavender Scare” witch hunts of the McCarthy era, the Harvey Milk assassination, the early years of AIDS — he gives us a complex study of a gay man married to a woman but cheating with men on the side. He’s morally unappealing, but Bomer gives him a sense of weariness as his duplicity takes a toll. Ultimately, as a survivor trapped by a phobic society, he’s hard to hate, and his last scenes in the miniseries had me bawling. As his romantic co-lead in their volatile love affair, Jonathan Bailey also shines. They give us a portrait of what socially accepted hatred can do to love — and a cautionary tale for a world that too often fails to learn from mistakes. (Showtime, Paramount+)
HONORABLE MENTIONS
“Colin From Accounts” This Australian rom-com is a light treat, as an injured dog brings Ashley and Gordon into each other’s orbit. Starring and written by real-life couple Harriet Dyer and Patrick Brammall, it’s honest and allergic to schmaltz. (Paramount+)
“Fargo” The fifth season, set in 2019, is more focused than before, and it’s driven by stellar and outrageous turns by Jon Hamm and Juno Temple. (FX, Hulu)
“Full Circle” The complex miniseries, from Steven Soderbergh and Ed Solomon and starring Claire Danes, Zazie Beetz, and Timothy Olyphant, starts with a kidnapping and spirals out as it takes on the American Dream. (Max)
Claire Danes (left) and Zazie Beetz in a scene from “Full Circle.” Uncredited/Associated Press
“Rain Dogs” British actor Daisy May Cooper is equal parts tender and brash in this tale of poverty, a toxic friendship, and bad decisions. Yes, it’s a comedy, fueled by the darkest of gallows humor. (HBO, Max)
“Lessons in Chemistry” Brie Larson is appealing as a brilliant chemist dealing with sexism in the 1950s world of science. Gorgeously designed, it’s a fascinating look back. (Apple TV+)
“Somebody Somewhere” Season two leaned into the strength of the comedy: the bond between Bridget Everett’s Sam and Jeff Hiller’s Joel. It’s a low-key treat. (HBO, Max)
“The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” The Australian miniseries is a dark look at cycles of abuse, with a powerful turn by Sigourney Weaver as a passionate protector of women — and of flowers. (Amazon)
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him @MatthewGilbert.

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