by Julian Spivey
10. Doctor Who (Disney+)
This might not be fair to some of the other great TV series I watched in 2023 to include what amounts to three one-hour 60th-anniversary specials of “Doctor Who” on my top 10 list – as I haven’t yet seen the Christmas special as of this writing which is essentially the debut of new Doctor Ncuti Gatwa (though he did have a role in the third of the specials) – but what the specials did was give me hope for the future of “Doctor Who” and wrap me up in the warm blanket of nostalgia. The nostalgia comes via Russell T. Davies returning to the series as showrunner and bringing back some fan-favorites in David Tennant as The Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble for the specials which I found all entertaining and one of which (“Wild Blue Yonder”) might even be an instant classic. The hope is still somewhat to be seen with what Davies can do with the series with Gatwa in the lead. Still, if the writing continues to be as entertaining as it was in the specials maybe Davies will right the ship that was shaky during the years with Chris Chibnall at the helm as showrunner.
9. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)
Half of the shows on my top 10 this year ended in 2023, which I find remarkable because ending a series well must be one of the hardest things for a TV show to accomplish. It feels like much of the hoopla that surrounded the first two seasons of Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” faded over the last three seasons – and I can somewhat see why (especially the third season) – but the characters always remained ones I wanted to spend an hour of an evening with, which is interesting because I feel like many of them would be grating in real-life. Showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino took a major chance in the final season when it came to the friendship/relationship between Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and Susie (Alex Borstein), which was always the most fascinating aspect of the show, but it mostly worked out. Yes, the final season did have a couple of the show’s worst episodes – I’m thinking of the episode with the musical about sanitation specifically – but the highs like “The Testi-Roastial” and the series finale “Four Minutes” were strong enough to forgive the missteps.
8. Poker Face (Peacock)
Rian Johnson hit absolute gold with his series of ‘Knives Out’ movies, so when I heard he was bringing a similarly themed television show to Peacock I was pumped from the beginning. The decision to combine the murder mystery theme with a “case-of-the-week” serial a la “Columbo” was a nice throwback too. Then Natasha Lyonne comes along as the lead, truly the sole cast member of the series, to add levity and an air of uniqueness as only Lyonne can was just the chef’s kiss. Lyonne’s Charlie Cale can tell when someone is lying just by looking at them and constantly finds herself embroiled in murders and crimes everywhere she goes. The serialized style of the show allows for incredible guest casting and the first season alone featured wonderful performances by Adrien Brody, Judith Light, S. Epatha Merkerson, Nick Nolte, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and many others.
7. Succession (HBO)
Honesty time. I had never seen a single episode of “Succession” until after the series ended this year. Because I felt I needed to see it before the end of the year for a list like this and wanted to see it before the Emmy Awards air in mid-January I binged the entire four seasons. So, having seen four seasons in a row may have affected the show’s placement despite trying to focus solely on the fourth and final season for this list. The other thing about “Succession” is I can see why it's such a beloved series – it’s amazing. The acting is impeccable. The writing, led by showrunner Jesse Armstrong, is among the greatest in TV history. But at the end of the day, every single character on this show is despicable and I think that impacts the show's standing for me personally when it comes to making this list. For instance, is AppleTV+’s “Shrinking,” which I have one spot ahead of “Succession” on this list a better show than “Succession” from an objective point of view – probably not. But I sure as hell enjoyed it more. The Roy family will go down as one of television’s greatest families but it’s ultimately because of how much they all sucked and how terrific Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, Brian Cox and co. were at portraying that.
6. Shrinking (AppleTV+)
“Shrinking” might only be No. 6 on my list of best shows of 2023 but I can say without a certainty that it was the single funniest show I watched all year – which is wild considering four of the shows ahead of it on this list are billed as comedies. “Shrinking,” created by Bill Lawrence, Jason Segel and Brett Goldstein, stars Segel as a widower psychologist Jimmy who has essentially been a zombie drinking, drugging and whoring his way through life in the year since his wife’s death, while ignoring fathering his high school aged daughter. The first season of “Shrinking” sees Jimmy adapting some hands-on but wildly unprofessional methods in helping out his clients, which leads to friendship with one and eventually trouble with others. The cast of “Shrinking” is pitch-perfect with Harrison Ford showing he can do comedy as the surly Dr. Paul Rhoades, Jimmy’s mentor, Jessica Williams in the year’s funniest performance as fellow psychologist Gaby, Lukita Maxwell as Jimmy’s daughter Alice, Christa Miller as the hilarious overbearing neighbor Liz and Luke Tennie as the patient turned friend, a vet with anger issues. “Shrinking” will likely fill a gap for “Ted Lasso” fans, another AppleTV+ series, as a comedy with some heavy topics involved and a lovable cast of characters who keep you smiling.
5. Barry (HBO)
HBO’s “Barry” was always dark – it’s a show about a hitman after all – but I think along the way some of the audience forgot that or either the humorous aspects of the series were so funny (and when the show was funny it was the funniest show on TV) they honed in on them more than the darkness behind the titular character. The way the show ended seemed to turn some of the audience off – but I felt like the show, at least when it came to most of its characters (it’s debatable if Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau got a deserving ending) ended as they should have. The performances of the final season – especially Sarah Goldberg’s as Sally (damn you still Emmys!) – were stellar, while Bill Hader who directed the entire final season showed that he could be one of today’s best auteurs if he wants to be.
4. Ted Lasso (AppleTV+)
The backlash to the final season of AppleTV+’s comedy “Ted Lasso,” which had won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series its first two years and is nominated again for season three, surprised me. No, I didn’t think the final season was quite as great as the first two, but I still thought it was good enough to be my fourth favorite series of the year and this cast of characters is one I’m always going to be game to hang out with. Maybe people wanted Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) to end up together? Yes, I did too. Maybe people didn’t want Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) to leave the team? I understand, but it was truly what the character needed to be happy. I felt most of the characters got the endings they deserved and I was very pleased by the redemption given to Nate (Nick Mohammed) after taking an abrupt heel turn at the end of season two.
3. The Last of Us (HBO)
“The Last of Us” was the most surprising show of 2023 to me. I didn’t expect to enjoy it – hell, I wasn’t even going to watch it until so many critics and friends raved about it that I felt I couldn’t put it off any longer. I’m not a gamer and the series is based on the successful game of the same name about a pandemic caused by a fungus that effectively turns people into zombies. The show sees Joel (Pedro Pascal), a character with a tragic and troubled past, hired to escort teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country when it turns out she’s immune to the virus and might be the key to turning around society. The performances by Pascal and Ramsey are brilliant and the huge supporting cast of guest actresses and actors give amazing showcase performances throughout the season.
2. Reservation Dogs (Hulu)
“Reservation Dogs” is everything great that television can be. For three seasons, showrunner Sterlin Harjo and his crew gave us a look into a community that we have never seen before on American television – the modern lives of Indigenous Americans. The bulk of “Reservation Dogs” is told through the four teens Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) and that main cast is terrific but the final season truly branched out a bit more and spotlighted the entirety of this little Oklahoma community with terrific guest spots and side stories that shown how important tradition and community is to these folks. I couldn’t get enough and feel like the show could’ve continued without suffering in quality – but Harjo made the decision to quit while he was ahead and I respect it as “Reservation Dogs” truly ended with three seasons of perfection.
1. The Bear (Hulu)
I don’t like to be boring by having the same No. 1 show two years in a row – but I couldn’t give this honor to any other show in 2023 than “The Bear.” As great as the first season of showrunner Christopher Storer’s little series about an award-winning chef who takes over the family Chicago beef restaurant and tries to transform it into something greater with a rag-tag team of misfits was the second season was arguably even better with such rewarding episodes as “Honeydew,” “Fishes,” “Forks” and “The Bear,” all perfect episodes. The show also fleshed out Abby Elliott’s Natalie and gave Lionel Boyce’s Marcus a standout episode to go with the continuing fascinating performances of Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. I don’t know how this show could get any better than these first two seasons have been but I’m greatly anticipating what Storer and crew have for us in season three.
What was your favorite TV show of 2023?