The best TV shows of 2023

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The television critics of the Los Angeles Times, Lorraine Ali and Robert Lloyd, weigh in on the series they enjoyed the most in 2023, including some that ended, some that were new and some that were international, but all worth watching.

Lorraine Ali: 10 best shows

Remember early spring of this year, when praise and recommendations for new and returning TV shows were arriving at a dizzying pace? “The Last of Us”! “Beef”! The final seasons of “Ted Lasso,” “Succession” and Bill Hader’s superbly dark hit man comedy, “Barry.” While the bounty of content didn’t stop the perennial conversations about the death of prestige TV and the alarming contraction of streamers, it did fuel our ongoing anxiety about never catching up with all the suggestions in our viewing queue. When will I ever find the time to watch all this!? Well, your answer has arrived and it’s called 2024.

The great programming drought is upon us, turning the last decade of too much content into something that appears closer to manageable, and you can thank the writers' and actors' strikes for this moment of relief. Studios went dark, halting production on returning shows like Apple TV+’s “Severance,” causing many series premiere dates to be delayed by months if not years. Expect more reality programming and game shows to fill the gap, at least in the first half of 2024. Which brings me back to this top 10 list.

More so than any other year-end list I’ve done over my career as a TV critic, this one should be used to remind you that television is a font of colorful, poignant dramas and ridiculously creative comedies when the medium’s talent are taken care of as they should be. Take them out of the picture, and there’s nothing. So here are 10 shows from 2023 to remind us that it’s people, not brand names or companies, who drive the most vital form of entertainment in American culture right now.

'The Horror of Dolores Roach' (Prime Video)

A thoroughly entertaining eat-or-be-eaten tale about the plight of the last few brown folks left in a gentrifying New York neighborhood, where “Sweeney Todd” darkness meets a spot-on comedy about class, race and displacement. Dynamo Justina Machado (“Six Feet Under,” “One Day at a Time”) plays Dolores, fresh out of prison after taking the rap for her ex on a drug-dealing charge. She returns to her old Washington Heights neighborhood after 16 years in the pen only to find rent has quadrupled, yoga studios have replaced bodegas, and pet spas are now a thing. She’s alone until she runs into an old neighborhood acquaintance, Luis (Alejandro Hernandez) who’s running his late father’s restaurant, Empanada Loca. He offers Dolores a rent-free apartment in the basement, where she sets up a masseuse business. And just as customers begin disappearing, the diner offers up a new empanada recipe that becomes a hit among the area’s Instagramming foodies. Based on a Gimlet podcast and a play of the same name, the brisk and morbidly hilarious “Dolores Roach” flew under the radar when it arrived on Prime Video in July, and the streamer did not renew the series for a second season, which is criminal. Luckily you still have the chance to consume Season 1 of this macabre masterpiece. (Watch on Prime Video.)

Read more: Gentrification 'is a form of cannibalism.' 'The Horror of Dolores Roach' makes it literal

'Reservation Dogs,' Season 3 (FX on Hulu)

The final season of FX on Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs” was a beautifully constructed goodbye to a wonderfully quirky series that challenged every previous TV and film narrative about Native Americans. The half-hour comedy co-created and executive produced by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi followed a quartet of close-knit teenagers — Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) — as they grappled with whether to stay or leave their fictional Oklahoma reservation. The gang's journey brought us through the mundane churn of junk food meals and high school crushes, as well as the pain of absent parents and the magical realism of smart-ass spirit guides such as William "Spirit" Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth). But the third and final season was the most poignant of them all thanks to unforgettable narratives like “Deer Lady," an episode that explored the brutality and humiliation of Indian boarding schools and the government's push over the last two centuries to force assimilation and flatten Indigenous culture. If you watch nothing else, watch this haunting episode. “Reservation Dogs” ended as it began, with an open question about where the friends fit in, and why ultimately it doesn’t matter because they have each other, their elders and the community to catch them when they fall. (Watch on Hulu. | Read an appreciation.)

'The Last of Us' (HBO)

Did I want to watch a drama about a plague that caused lockdowns, supply-chain shortages and the potential destruction of the human race? Not really, but HBO's “The Last of Us” is such a cinematic masterpiece — from its emotive storytelling to its character development to its attention to detail (it’s adapted from a video game of the same name) — it won me over with a dynamic 90-minute premiere episode starring Pedro Pascal as Joel, a postapocalyptic bounty hunter. Once Ellie (Bella Ramsey) entered the picture, there was no turning back from this intense survivalist series about a gruff killer who vows to protect a teenager from a dangerous world filled with swarms of “infected.” There were many questions from the outset about how this TV adaptation from Craig Mazin (“Chernobyl”) of a video game would work, but it managed to stay true to the story, and re-create many of the battles, while adding deeply moving subplots. “Long, Long Time,” an episode starring Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman as survivors who found love in the rubble of post-civilization, produced one of the best moments on television in 2023. That alone made up for an underwhelming finale, and ensured I could never hear that song performed by Linda Ronstadt again without tearing up. (Watch on Max. | Read the review.)

'Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story' (Netflix)

Losing oneself in the fantasy of the “Bridgerton” series from Shonda Rhimes' Shondaland once meant escaping into the frivolity of England’s Regency-era aristocracy, replete with the snooty frivolity of the Ton. The show paired the expected scuttlebutt around marriage matches, clandestine rendezvous and heartbreak with a modernist take on the elite set of 19th century England. It was no big deal that the queen was Black, the king was white, and the will-they-or-won't-they romance at the heart of each season was between a mixed-race couple. Diversity just is in this world, which was as baffling as it was refreshing.

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But the prequel “Queen Charlotte” goes there, explaining how a Black woman ascended to the throne in a society built atop a lily-white class system, and it does so with heart, humor and intricately woven bits of social commentary. Golda Rosheuvel plays the adult royal, while India Ria Amarteifio plays a younger version of the queen, who’s 17 and a German princess when she’s betrothed to a young King George III (Corey Mylchreest). Between her struggles to be accepted and his battles with mental health, the story is riveting and playful (her towering wigs should have their own show), but it’s also painful, and those moments are handled with more depth and compassion than the other two installations of this franchise. The Ton is still as cold and insufferable as ever, which makes the finale of “Queen Charlotte” — a work of love and empathy — all the more remarkable. (Watch on Netflix. | Read the review.)

'Poker Face' (Peacock)

Clouds of cigarette smoke emanate from this case-of-the-week murder-mystery series inspired by the cigar-chomping 1970s detective “Columbo.” But this time around, he’s a she. Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) is a human BS detector, which is both a blessing and a curse for a girl trying to outrun mobsters and the law. There’s a hard-nosed charm to this series, which is an ode to network detective shows of yore but is also a manifestation of something that’s clearly been fighting its way out of Lyonne since she hit the screen as a teenager in films like “The Slums of Beverly Hills." The tough, call-it-like-it-is character she created for “Russian Doll” encapsulated some of this swaggering persona, but “Poker Face” introduces a new gravelly-voiced character who is as cunning as she is fallible. Created by Rian Johnson (“Knives Out,” “Glass Onion”), the series features new guest stars with each episode — among them Nick Nolte, Ellen Barkin, Jameela Jamil and Chloë Sevigny — taking viewers on the run, across the country in a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda. (Watch on Peacock | Read the review.)

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'The Fall of the House of Usher' (Netflix)

Based loosely on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a riveting mixture of Gothic horror, eat-the-rich commentary and whodunit mystery. For those not into scary storytelling, this eight-part miniseries is much more than a fright fest. It’s a high-level drama from horror master Mike Flanagan, and it’s his best series offering to date, even next to “The Haunting of Hill House.”

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Big Pharma billionaire Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) has left a trail of broken souls and bodies on his way up the corporate ladder to the position of owner and CEO of an empire specializing in highly addictive pain medication. But he rules with no apparent successor, despite the fact that he has six adult children from multiple mothers. The siblings are a pampered, morally challenged bunch who fight among themselves for the throne. But this is not “Succession.” There’s a mystery to solve: Why are they dying one by one, in cruel and gruesome ways? It's a gripping tale of greed and regret. (Watch on Netflix.)

'Beef' (Netflix)

The first episode of this Netflix series from Lee Sung Jin was so angry and full of road rage, it made one question why you'd want to sit through the rest of a series that simulates the unpleasantness of a daily commute in L.A. Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) accidentally cuts off the car of Amy Lau (Ali Wong) while backing out of a parking space. She flips him off. The small incident balloons into a chase, then builds into an obsession for each party to get back at the other: the out-of-work handyman and his late-model Toyota Tacoma versus the wealthy entrepreneur in her shiny new Mercedes SUV. But from there, “Beef” skillfully pivots from a vendetta drama into a character-driven series about the events and life circumstances behind all that anger. Both parties contend with dashed hopes, unfulfilled expectations and family tensions. And it turns out their internal struggles are far more compelling than a high-speed car chase through the San Fernando Valley. (Watch on Netflix. | Read the review.)

'Tiny Beautiful Things' (Hulu)

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for anything featuring Kathryn Hahn in a prominent role (“WandaVision," “The Shrink Next Door”), so when “Tiny Beautiful Things” premiered last spring with her in the lead, I was predisposed to fall for this drama. And Hahn does not disappoint as Clare Pierce, the anonymous writer behind the advice column “Dear Sugar.” Clare helps readers pull their lives together as hers is falling apart. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s book of the same name, the series follows Clare as she grapples with her failures as a daughter and a mother. Hahn takes the role to complex emotional heights, infusing the character with a wicked sense of humor and incapacitating vulnerability. If this eight-part miniseries sounds super heavy, it is. You will cry. But there is also something incredibly cathartic about watching a stellar performer like Hahn work though boatloads of grief and self-loathing onscreen. She turns emotional burden into a moving art. (Watch on Hulu.)

'Love & Death' (Max)

There was a lot of confusion around the miniseries “Love & Death” when it premiered on the streaming service formerly known as HBO Max earlier this year. Hadn’t we already seen a drama based on the true case of Candy Montgomery, a Texas housewife who killed friend and neighbor Betty Gore with an ax in 1980 after having a torrid affair with Gore's husband? Yes, we had. It was called “Candy,” it was on Hulu in 2022 and it starred Jessica Biel. It was unfortunate that this series, written by David E. Kelley, landed so close to that other murderous offering because it meant that many folks missed a compelling, addictive, high-quality true-crime drama. Elizabeth Olsen (“WandaVision”) plays Montgomery, the perfect Southern mom and church lady who harbors a horrible secret between all those soccer matches and Bible school sessions: She’s sleeping with her best friend’s spouse (Jesse Plemons). Although she cuts off the affair, it still leads to a bloody ax attack in Betty’s kitchen. In this version of the tale, it’s hard to take your eyes off Olsen, who portrays Candy as an unflappable woman of faith. Or is she an unfeeling sociopath? You decide. (Watch on Max.)

'Top Boy,' Season 5 (Netflix)

Often described as Britain’s answer to “The Wire,” “Top Boy” premiered its fifth and final season on Netflix this fall, answering the question posed in the show’s title: Who would make it to top boy in the drug dealing in and around Hackney’s Summerhouse estate? Childhood friends Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson) have become kingpins, and only one would be left standing by the series' end. “Top Boy” stands on its own as a drama that deftly portrays the ugly realities of institutional racism, drug addiction, crime and corrupt law enforcement. There's five seasons of this series to catch up on, which should help you get through 2024's initial shortage of new and returning shows. But brace yourself, the finale is a stunner. (Watch on Netflix.)

Robert Lloyd: 14 best new shows

Collage of characters from TV shows "Mrs. Davis," "I'm a Virgo" and "Murder at the End of the World"
From left, Betty Gilpin in "Mrs. Davis," Jharrel Jerome in "I'm a Virgo" and Emma Corrin in "A Murder at the End of the World." (Photo illustration by Jess Hutchison / Los Angeles Times; photos by Sophie Kohler / Peacock, Pete Lee / Prime Video, Christopher Saunders / FX)

Somehow we have survived almost to the end of another year, but before you mix the nog and hoist the mistletoe, there is still some business to discuss. Yes, friends, we have come to that time in the calendar when the rituals of this job demand that I make a list, and I don't mean for Santa.

It's been a tough 12 months in the life of Earth and its people. That's one of the reasons we turn to television, where mysteries are solvable, problems resolvable and even when things are crazy they're at least fictional, and maybe funny. And when they are not fictional, or are semi-nonfictional, we might comfort ourselves with the knowledge that those people's burdens are not ours, or that we are learning something that might make life better — or even improve the wider world, if we are moved to get off the couch and do something.

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As to the medium itself, overlapping actors' and writers' strikes — which we might as easily call the producers' strike, an (in)action against negotiation — famously interrupted the flow of homegrown material for more than a third of the year. It was no surprise, then, that content distributors looked abroad for stuff to fill the gaps. To be sure, one is happy that the home team is returning to work, but there's no need to think less of the shows from Canada, the U.K., Australia and beyond (see below) that made up the difference, any more than it's fair to torture the substitute teacher or demean the understudy. Good television is made everywhere.

Some headline-writing editor may attach the word "best" to this rundown of things I most liked on television in 2023, but that is not a word I care to use. These are just the shows — all new to the current year, as is my tradition — I most wanted to tell you about. My satisfaction is 100% guaranteed.

'I'm a Virgo' (Prime Video)

Jharrel Jerome is a 13-foot-tall Oakland teenager getting his first taste of the wider world in Boots Riley's remarkable, strangely beautiful, beautifully strange, sentimental-political, inner-city, coming-of-age superhero story. It's part anti-capitalist satire, with something to say about food deserts, for-profit hospitals and public utilities; part sweet comedy, with love interest Olivia Washington as a fast-food worker with super speed; and part concretized metaphor. But for all its didactic digressions and the stylistic extravagance of the storytelling, the series is deeply felt and, the stature of its hero notwithstanding, life-sized. (Watch on Prime Video. | Read the review.)

'Mrs. Davis' (Peacock)

Betty Gilpin plays a jam-making nun, with a sideline in busting crooked magicians, who sets herself against a world-dominating artificial intelligence, the much loved, good-as-magic Mrs. Davis. Diverse narrative strands carefully knit together involve, among other things, the Holy Grail, (Arthur) Schrodinger's cat, amateur-theatrical Germans, revolutionary bros, Arthurian cosplayers and a short-order cook who might be something more … mystical. A cockeyed comedy with a lot on its mind — the individual vs. the collective, faith vs. science — it shimmers with the energy and inspiration of an old-school underground film. (Watch on Peacock. | Read the review.)

'Poker Face' (Peacock)

Rian Johnson's comic (but not parodic) take on 1960s-70s episodic procedural television, shaped to the personality and talents of Natasha Lyonne. The series borrows structural and tonal notes from "Columbo" and "The Fugitive" as Lyonne's character — a sort of human lie detector and situational sleuth, on the run from an angry casino boss — finds herself in a series of colorful locations and situations whose common factor is that people turn up dead. Guest stars galore! (Watch on Peacock. | Read the review.)

Read more: Love 'Columbo'? You'll devour the TV comfort food of 'Poker Face'

'A Murder at the End of the World' (FX on Hulu)

An Agatha Christie-style country house mystery, set in a snowbound Icelandic smart hotel. Clive Owen is the tech billionaire who has convened a flock of geniuses, among them an electric Emma Corrin as a young hacker and amateur sleuth — "Gen Z Sherlock Holmes," according to the L.A. Times, according to this series — who knows a not-accidental death when she sees one. The material is contemporary — the butler is a hologram — but the cut is classic. As Owen's wife, co-creator Brit Marling is among the potential victims/killers. (Watch on Hulu. | Read full review.)

'The Swarm' (The CW), 'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters' (Apple TV+)

In the CW's imported "The Swarm" — an internationally produced, globe-trotting, slow-burning, oceangoing, melancholy, paranormal eco-thriller — the creatures of the sea are up to strangely coordinated bad business. (Watch on the CW. | Read the review.) The equally far-flung, fast-moving "Monarch," which belongs to the Toho-licensed Monsterverse, fits in between a couple of American Godzilla movies, and is better than either, for its sense of fun, its acknowledgment of the big lizard's Japanese roots and the resurrection of Kurt Russell as an action hero. (Watch on Apple TV+. | Read the review.)

'The American Buffalo' (PBS)

Ken Burns, chronicler of humans and human institutions, turns his attention to the national mammal and how it has fared for the worse and better at the hands of humans and human institutions. (He returns to a favorite theme, the need for intelligent oversight of human shortsightedness.) There is a lot of "worse" — bison, which lived in balance for centuries with Native Americans, were quickly brought to the edge of extinction by white commercial interests servicing fads in fashions and food, or just killing things for kicks. But the end is hopeful, and the buffalo are beautiful. (Watch on PBS. | Read the review.)

'Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland' (PBS)

An epic journey through the Troubles, the often bloody sectarian conflict and general madness that gripped Northern Ireland through the last decades of the 20th century. Made from archival footage and first-person remembrance, it includes Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and loyalists, victims and victimizers, paramilitary members, police, punks, prisoners and prisoners’ wives and children, widows and orphans among its witnesses. It's not an easy watch, but as a picture of how people live with, or live past, or never get over trauma, it's a deeply rewarding one. (Watch on PBS. | Read the review.)

'Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie' (Apple TV+)

Davis Guggenheim's engaging, affectionate documentary portrait of America's sweetheart is at once a life story, a career résumé, a family comedy and the story of a disease: Fox's Parkinson’s, diagnosed in 1991, made public in 1998 and increasingly a challenge. ("Still" has the triple meaning of "learning to be still," the frozen endgame of his affliction, and "still here.") It's honest, funny and inspiring without being inspirational. (Watch on Apple TV+. | Read the review.)

'School Spirits' (Paramount+)

“Ghosts,” “Nancy Drew” and “My So-Called Life” combine in this smart high school afterlife mystery-dramedy. Outsider student Maddie (Peyton List) wakes up dead in the school boiler room and sets out to discover her killer, while living friends go sleuthing on their own. Spectral students from various eras offer a range of familiar types — jock, beatnik, stoner, gay kid —and remind us that as long as you live, and even afterward, you're never out of high school. (Watch on Paramount+.)

'Deadloch' (Prime Video), 'Cunk on Earth' (Netflix), 'Everyone Else Burns' (The CW), 'Still Up' (Apple TV+)

Four great imported comedies. Australia's "Deadloch" created by comedy partners Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, is a pitch-perfect, long-form takeoff on small-town crime serials (Watch on Prime Video). From Great Britain come "Cunk on Earth," starring Diane Morgan as a hilariously misguided guide to the history of civilization (Watch on Netflix.); "Everyone Else Burns" a dysfunctional family comedy set within an apocalyptic Christian cult (Watch on CW. | Read the review); and "Still Up," a lovely just-short-of-romantic romantic comedy in which best friends keep each other company during the hours neither can sleep. (Watch on Apple TV+. | Read the review.)

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.