At first, it's tempting to suggest that television isn't exactly in a great place at the end of 2023. The headlines this year were more about industry strikes and content algorithms than character or quality. And it feels like most people think we're well past the recent prime of what some called "Peak TV." Where is the current "The Sopranos" or "Breaking Bad"? Why haven't we seen a game changer like "Lost" lately? Or even a "Stranger Things" to shake things up? Are people moving on to short form like TikTok or YouTube? It's possible, and TV creators will have to prioritize creativity and character to get them back.
And yet, when we asked the six regular TV critics at this site (Brian Tallerico, Nandini Balial, Cristina Escobar, Clint Worthington, Rendy Jones, and Kaiya Shunyata) to name their faves of the year, we got dozens of shows that really reflect a wide spectrum of genre, interest, and POV. So something must be working.
We've assembled 25 of the best and we're still missing undeniable gems like "What We Do in the Shadows" and the strike-truncated "Abbott Elementary." There was a cool "Justified" reboot this year too that didn't make it. What the list below reflects is the broad, current array of quality programs, including animation, horror, dramas, comedies, thrillers, and more. The choir of TV may not be as harmonious as it was a decade ago, but it feels somehow bigger, allowing more voices to sing their songs. As long as they stay creating programs as great as the 25 below, TV will find that great place again soon.
25. “The Fall of the House of Usher” (Netflix)
The Sacklers have had a rough time of it on television these last few years—both overtly in “Painkiller” and “Dopesick” and more obliquely in stuff like “Pain Hustlers” and, well, “Succession.” But leave it to Mike Flanagan to delight most in the downfall of capitalism’s greatest death merchants, revamping the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe into another sprawling miniseries about how delicious it would feel to see the rich get their just desserts.
Over eight episodes, each of which twists one Poe tale of woe after another, “The Fall of the House of Usher” builds up the titular dynasty—one built off the backs of a fentanyl-like pharmaceutical — only to tear it down one brick at a time. It may not be the most startling or terrifying horror work of the year; Flanagan prefers the aesthetics of horror to its mechanics. But it gives him a chance to unleash his ensemble of regular players (Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Kate Siegel, the list goes on) on meaty, memorable characters whose squandered privilege makes them the perfect targets for darkly comic/karmic justice. Put simply, it’s Mike Flanagan’s take on a season of “American Horror Story,” camp and poetic in equal measure. No wonder horror fans are raven about it. - Clint Worthington
24. “Rain Dogs” (HBO)
Most pop culture portrayals of abused women fall into two camps. Generally, we see either total victims (think of all the dead lady corpses floating around procedurals) or righteous revenge stories ranging from The Chicks' iconic “Goodbye Earl” to Jennifer Lopez’s “Enough.” HBO’s “Rain Dogs” is so different, I am a bit concerned people will fail to see the abuse. Costello (Daisy May Cooper) is a smart, funny, and deeply flawed woman. You know, the type of meaty character women rarely get to play, whether gender-based violence is there or not.
In “Rain Dogs,” Costello is just trying to survive and mother her kid. As such, she’s not an anti-hero—her misbehavior is often so deeply self-sabotaging as to reject any pretense of the audience enjoying it. Now, there is still power in some of her mischief—take how she defends the women’s shelter she finds herself in for example—but it’s not enough.
She may have cast herself as a sort of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Puck, a maker and tour guide to trouble but it’s a facade for the person underneath. And “Rain Dogs” perfectly exposes her, showing how even Costello would often rather ignore the abuse in her own life than look it square in the eye. After all, she’s not a perfect victim and because of her inability to achieve that impossible standard, she’s not sure she deserves anyone’s sympathy, including her own.
That is a damning take on how we as a society understand abuse. And it also makes “Rain Dogs,” in its crucifixion of our assumptions, outstanding TV. - Cristina Escobar
23. “Scavengers Reign” (Max)
Much like René Laloux’s 1973 psychedelia “Fantastic Planet,” Max’s “Scavengers Reign” uses the boundless medium of animation to craft a truly alien world, one filled with flora and fauna the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner’s series zeroes in on those strange, strange creatures, and the way they impact—and are impacted by—the presence of that familiar poison known as humanity.
Through vivid animation and bright, ligne claire designs that evoke the concept art of Jean “Moebius” Girard, “Scavengers Reign” tells a melancholic story about our precarious relationship with nature. For some survivors of the Demeter, a transport ship whose crew crash-lands on the alien world of Vesta Minor, the plants and wildlife they find offer resources, even salvation at times. Others struggle to adapt, like guilt-ridden Kamen (Ted Travelstead), whose isolation is broken by a strangely cute creature who feeds off his loneliness and rage, itself growing larger and meaner as a result. There’s enough body horror to make both Cronenbergs wince. But it’s all in service of a quieter, sadder story about the inevitability of change and the messy, often deadly process of adaptation. - CW
22. “Killing It” (Peacock)
The sophomore season of "Killing It" grew by leaps and bounds over the first, expanding its absurdist satirical takedown of the cutthroat American capitalist culture to exceptionally new heights and darker arenas. Leaving the snakes behind for berries and criminals, the writers intricately unpack the struggling working-class facets with ingenuity and well-earned laughs. Craig Robinson and Claudia O'Doherty's exceptional chemistry powers the season's stakes as Craig and Jillian's work partnership goes through many stress-inducing hurdles to succeed. But, hot damn, the season finale evokes Bong Joon-Ho's leveled intuitiveness that left me speechless to the extent I had to take a walk to clear my head. - Rendy Jones
21. “Fargo” (FX)
It’s nice to have one of the best shows on TV back in close to prime form, don’t cha know? The newest season of Noah Hawley’s show that uses the world of Joel & Ethan Coen as a sandbox marks a very deliberate return to the structure that first made this show an Emmy winner, and the film that directly inspired it. Yes, “Fargo” is back in something that’s very recognizably “Fargo,” including a kidnapped housewife, milquetoast husband, wealth in-law, foreign criminal, and kindly cop. But Hawley and his team of talented writers reverse almost all of the traditional roles from the film, operating in a sort of funhouse mirror version of their source in a way that’s consistently clever and entertaining.
With excellent performances from Juno Temple, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and more, the fifth season of “Fargo” also finds Hawley playing with modern issues. There’s a reason this season is set in 2019, just before the world exploded in riots and lockdowns. It gives Fargo a simmering energy of unrest, as if any character could become a victim or a villain in any scene. It’s smart, thrilling television. You betcha. - Brian Tallerico
20. “Full Circle” (Max)
Another underrated gem that went under the radar this past summer is Steven Soderbergh's “Full Circle.” From its first episode, Soderbergh expertly weaves multiple perspectives for audiences to immerse themselves in. It remains one of the most immersive shows of the year, and consequently, one of the tensest. The audience is compelled to experience the weight of these events just as the characters in the series do, creating a sense of heaviness within their chests with each episode. This is enhanced by the series’ cast, who deliver perhaps the best ensemble performance of the year. From unknown talents to acting giants, everyone turns in a performance that aids in the show's intensity.
“Full Circle” never overstays its welcome with its tight 6-episode run, and, as the mystery unravels, it's clear that the miniseries is perfectly paced. Each thread that unravels itself from the web of curiosities slowly becomes a jigsaw piece in a never-ending puzzle, forcing its many characters into close proximity with each other. But, what Soderbergh tells us, is that no matter how close we (and the show's characters) find ourselves, we may never truly know who these people are, or what their ultimate motivations may be. - Kaiya Shunyata
19. “Primo” (Freevee)
Freevee’s “Primo” gets its comedic fireworks from our titular hero’s five uncles, played by Carlos Santos, Henri Esteve, Johnny Rey Diaz, Jonathan Medina, and Efrain Villa. They ham it up, enjoying the latitude to play up their character’s over-the-top traits while anchoring each of them in a relatable humanity. You see, each uncle, whether he’s the smart one, the hard-working one, or the hippie one, has moments of insight, if not downright transcendence.
And they work as symbols too—the uncles aren’t just people; they’re also paths for young Primo (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio) to choose from as he approaches manhood. He’s not sure who he wants to be, but whatever way he goes will be paved by the love of his family. And that’s what makes “Primo” so special—it’s a laugh-out-loud sitcom brimming with heart that stems from a sweet, relatable teenage boy, patterned after show creator Shea Serrano.
Primo has a mom (Christina Vidal) and a love interest (Stakiah Lynn Washington) to round out all that masculine interest, and Vidal, in particular, shines. But this show is one of the best of the year thanks to its ability to find laughs and warmth in healthy, if flawed, masculinities. -CE
18. “Silo” (Apple TV+)
The multi-gajillionaires over at Apple opened their wallets over and over again this year with more high-budget, high-profile shows than other streamers, but they often led to disappointment. It’s admirable that Apple seems to be legitimately giving creators unlimited budgets to bring forth their visions, but it backfired a few times this year. However, not in the case of Graham Yost. The creator of “Justified” brought his deep intelligence and skill with character to science fiction in this spectacular adaptation of the novels by Hugh Howey about a society that lives in a giant underground silo after the end of the world.
The premiere of “Silo” is one of the best hours of TV this year, an episode that sets up a premise with stars David Oyelowo, Rashida Jones, Tim Robbins, Will Patton, Common, and more, and then completely blows it up, turning focus in future episodes to a silo engineer played perfectly by Rebecca Ferguson. With noir elements that echo “Blade Runner” and societal deconstruction that recalls George Orwell, “Silo” is some of the best genre TV of the decade so far. - BT
17. “Dark Winds” (AMC)
The perfect blend of prestige and genre television comes in the form of “Dark Winds.” Heightened by a career defining performance from Zahn McClarnon, Season 2 embraced its fantastical elements as well as its character drama. McClarnon continues to deliver a beautiful (and underrated) performance, oozing cool as Joe Leaphorn. There’s no one else who could play the character, and this becomes even more apparent as Leaphorn is forced to reckon with his past, cracking open the aloof nature the character had in the first season. He’s joined by a magnetic Kiowa Gordan, who harnesses Jim Chee’s grief like the seasoned peers he’s surrounded by.
There’s an edge here that other shows about detectives don’t have, and the show boldly never abandons its gray areas of the profession. There’s more than what meets the eye with “Dark Winds,” and it takes itself seriously even when increasing its fantastical elements. It’s a show that embraces the idea of the unknown, pushing its characters rather than having them crumble under the weight of this desolate presence. So many shows center figures looking for concrete answers, but in “Dark Winds” the creators want their characters, and in turn their viewers to be captivated by the idea of not having all the answers. - KS
16. “Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake” (Max)
Clearly, it’s been a very strong year for animated television. There are several new shows on this list, and, honestly, “Bob’s Burgers” should probably make it every year too. However, one of the most unexpected animated gifts of the year was this Max spin-off of a franchise that felt like it was truly over. “Adventure Time” ended lyrically and beautifully in 2018, but Adam Muto brought a funhouse mirror version of that world back in this year’s “Fionna and Cake,” another beautifully surreal show that uses fantasy tropes and imaginative situations to unpack relatable human emotions.
The main characters of “Adventure Time” are pivoted from Finn and Jake to Fionna and her cat Cake in this alternate reality iteration that also features former Ice King Simon Petrikov as the third lead protagonist. It’s legitimately impossible to recap the plot of “Fionna and Cake” in this limited space, so just know that it’s gorgeous, funny, surprising, and ultimately moving. Now that it’s been renewed for a second season, one wonders if it couldn’t run as long as the original and become the same kind of cultural force. And maybe even top the original. - BT
15. “Our Flag Means Death” (Max)
Yes, one of the best shows on TV is a pirate comedy. It feels like those who have not yet been inducted into the crew of “Our Flag Means Death” could look at this from the outside and think that it’s just goofy high seas humor. The ads for this show and press for its initial 2022 launch fail to capture the depth of the writing and complexity of the performances in a program that has truly grown over its two seasons to become one of the TV’s best comedies, and one of TV’s best romances.
“Our Flag Means Death” started as something of a parody, using the life of the real “gentleman pirate” Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) to tell a fish-out-of-water tale, but it has grown by leaps and bounds since those early days. It started with the development of the relationship between Stede and Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) himself, revealing how these two seemingly so different people could find love with each other. After a trio of episodes that brilliantly detailed the impact of their separation from the end of last season, the second year of “Our Flag Means Death” continued its ambitious development, deepening the complexity of almost every character. It’s become a show about how no one can be defined by simply the role they play in this world. Even pirates. - BT
14. “A Small Light” (Nat Geo)
Holocaust stories invariably toe a fine line between moving and melodramatic—it’s easy, with enough of a remove, to discount some of its more harrowing tales as mawkish or manipulative. But Nat Geo’s “A Small Light” takes a smart, sensitive approach to the small but mighty forms heroism often takes in apocalyptic times. It’s the story of Anne Frank but told through the lens of the people who kept her and her family safe in the secret annex—notably Miep Gies (a powerful Bel Powley), the secretary of Otto Frank (Liev Schreiber). Powley juggles myriad modes here, first imbuing Miep with a likable flightiness and charm before calibrating that same idiosyncrasy into her secret weapon for dealing with the Nazis.
It’s a tale of bravery through sheer survival, tackling the minute-by-minute stressors of keeping the Franks fed, hidden, and safe. In so doing, it becomes a powerful picture of resilience, both through Miep’s indirect courage and the active resistance work of her husband (Joe Cole). Even as it soaks you in WWII-era dread, audiences awaiting the inevitable end we know Anne faces, “A Small Light” steals many brilliant moments of joy—a recognition that, even (or especially) when you’re fighting for your life, you have to hold onto your humanity. - CW
13. “The Righteous Gemstones” (HBO)
There is much to admire in Danny McBride’s satire of evangelical Christianity. The production design features vapid pop-star arena show lighting at church to highlight the emptiness of the Gemstones’ message; the costumes are perfectly suited to each character’s level of self-importance; and the actors bust out their best comedic chops to go toe-to-toe with each other. Eli Gemstone (John Goodman, predictably great) watches wearily as his children make daily messes of his legacy. His oldest hothead Jesse Gemstone (McBride) is not without a heart, while his brother Kelvin (Adam DeVine, laugh-out-loud king) is a bit of an idiot who has some growing up to do. But it’s Edi Patterson as unhinged sister Judy Gemstone who steals the show, and her attire—preposterously sequined dresses and exaggerated shoulders—help sell her arrested development. Walton Goggins as madcap uncle Baby Billy is one of the funniest characters to ever hit television.
This season, viewers were also gifted with the acting bounty of Shea Whigham and Steve Zahn, lord have mercy! But perhaps the sharpest tool in the show’s arsenal is its writing. McBride has spoken in interviews about his contempt for the way churches can shun and mistreat parishioners, but “The Righteous Gemstones” is only partly about religion. It’s a sendup of specific subcultures (which, this season, expanded to include libertarian militias), and how—like Kenny Powers and Neal Gamby—even genuinely horrible people can try to change for the better. Now isn’t that something to shout “Hallelujah” for? - Nandini Balial
12. “Gen V” (Prime Video)
When it seemed that "The Boys" was teetering into bloated territory, their spin-off series "Gen V" swooped the next generation of Supes in to add some reinvigorated juice (or compound V) into the mix. Still as gory, raunchy, and gleefully deranged as the mainline series, "Gen V" carves its immense strength through its character-driven focus and relevant themes—generational trauma, body dysmorphia, cyberbullying, etc.—well-integrated into the first season's storyline. Probably the first big-budgeted drama to accurately write Gen-Z characters with nuance, this "Boys" spin-off guarantees that the children are the future. - RJ
11. “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” (Netflix)
"Scott Pilgrim Takes Off" is a phenomenal stand-alone addition to the franchise as excellent as the many incarnations before it. Amid remakes and reboots, this rare level-up cleverly reexamines its entire story with a profound twist without sacrificing any pieces of its identity. It sees its audience as the adults they are and threads nuance to its eternal lost twenty-somethings case study substantial enough to bridge newcomers and its veteran fanbase. With its most stylistic form yet, "Scott Pilgrim" accomplishes the most human rendering of this story yet to the extent that I teared up by its final needle drop. Like with how it felt reading the novels as a kid, and when I saw the movie opening weekend (yes, I was one of the few) with my late dad, this show is like falling in love for the first time. Those reignited sparks burn oh so brightly. - RJ
10. “The Curse” (Showtime)
The king of cringe behind shows like “Nathan for You” and “The Rehearsal” is back–and perhaps better than ever–with a new scripted series examining the horrors of reality television. Set against the backdrop of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the show uses its characters Asher (Nathan Fielder) and Whitney (Emma Stone) to examine everything from gentrification to the horrors of making a home improvement show. The show isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, blending comedy with more serious ideas, and in turn creating one of the most unsettling shows of the year. Under the magnifying glass of Fielder’s writing, no character is safe as they are each forced to reckon with their faults (and sins) throughout the series’ 10-episode run.
Known for forcing unsuspecting bystanders into ridiculous situations, Fielder instead places himself into this position, using himself as the source for most of the show's commentary. In turn, he produces one of the best performances of the year, playing Asher with an unwavering and at times commendable certainty. It’s an anxiety-inducing character study that forces its actors to grapple with the performative nature of modernity and sees its main characters ultimately crumble under the weight of their prejudices and false preoccupations. – KS
9. “Dead Ringers” (Prime Video)
“Dead Ringers” is one of the most disturbing television series in recent memory, featuring scintillating performances by some of the best in the business. In a riveting double performance, Rachel Weisz is terrific as both the softer, kinder, sadder Beverly, and the rambunctious, mischievous, and possibly murderous Eliot Mantle. Credit must also be given to the costume and hair departments for cementing the differences between the two (Beverly wears delicate jewelry and her hair is neat, while Eliot’s hair, like her personality, hangs loose). Giving birth is a grisly horror, and “Dead Ringers” makes sure to document this reality with a bevy of nightmarish visuals. But the most frightening person in the ensemble cast, which also includes the ever-terrific Poppy Liu as the Mantle twins’ mysterious housekeeper Greta, is Jennifer Ehle as the scene-stealing Rebecca Parker, the billionaire funding the Mantle Center. Every syllable she utters is poison, and when she is silent the venom continues to seep from her pores and unblinking stare. She’s a one-woman horror film, and the series is worth watching just for her.
Scary content on TV isn’t new, but few shows have managed to achieve the maddening depths of terror as “Dead Ringers.” The production design, costumes, and overall chilled-to-the-bone atmosphere never let up on feeding the viewer’s anxieties, so six episodes of existential terror is just enough. Ryan Murphy, eat your heart out. - NB
8. “I’m a Virgo” (Prime Video)
If anyone can be trusted to scrutinize America’s many ills, it’s Boots Riley. Best known for his hit debut feature “Sorry to Bother You,” the writer/director returned to critiquing American norms with “I’m A Virgo.” Jharrel Jerome stars as Oakland resident Cootie, a 13-foot-tall man raised in secrecy by his aunt (Carmen Ejogo) and uncle (Mike Epps). He longs to explore the world outside his window, and his largeness, both metaphorical and literal, is reinforced through a specific, arresting visual style reminiscent of Adult Swim. Accidentally revealed to the neighborhood (and world at large), Cootie becomes an instant symbol, objectified and labelled by white people, some who want to use him for money, others who think he’s their cult’s prophesied messiah.
Riley has no shortage of ideas, and almost all are explored insightfully: he uses Jay Whittle (Walton Goggins), a billionaire who moonlights as a superhero targeting Black people, to critique the worship of the mega rich; he urges workers across industries to fight with, rather than against, each other. And Riley questions the proud, grotesque American traditions of exceptionalism, individualism, and blind devotion to capitalism, all while frequently making the audience laugh and wonder at the series’ extraordinary production design. “I’m A Virgo” is a perfect continuation of the pro-worker, anti-ruling class ethos of “Sorry to Bother You” and his hip-hop group The Coup, but it feels like Riley is flexing his imaginative muscles even more here, using forced perspective, animation, and puppetry to help us question our stark realities. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is. - NB
7. “Poker Face” (Peacock)
The procedural is popular for a reason. When done right, it’s both satisfying and compelling, offering insights into the human condition in a tidy format. But as “Law and Order” clones proliferated over the last few decades, it got a bad rap. Enter Peacock’s “Poker Face,” starring Natasha Lyonne as Vegas-Casino worker Charlie Cale, a woman who happens to have the uncanny ability to know when someone’s lying.
Created by “Knives Out’s” Rian Johnson, “Poker Face” largely sticks to the format—a murder committed and solved each episode—while also playing with it. Lyonne’s Charlie is not a cop or attorney, just a do-gooder, a person with a conscience and a special ability. And she’s on the lam for her troubles, chased by a delightfully frustrated Benjamin Bratt.
Lyonne shines here, her raspy charisma making her misadventures and moral compass not just believable but also enthralling. She holds the frame, a promised delight in the first third of each episode that depicts the crime before she arrives.
That “Poker Face’s” underlying conceit is about how lies both power and destroy lives just makes Lyonne and Johnson’s shenanigans that much more fun. It also elevates “Poker Face,” proving that there’s plenty of juice left in the procedural genre. - CE
6. “Barry” (HBO)
Barry Berkman's final curtain call was an unpredictable emotional roller coaster that perhaps was expected to be a palette cleanser to “Succession”'s last season, only for it to be the grimmest the show has ever been. Never have I seen a dark comedy series gradually lessen its opacity on its comedy identity but retain its dynamite quality. Even after its ambitious eight-year jump at its mid-season, the adrenaline never skips a beat as Barry, Sally, Noho Hank, Fuches, and Mr. Cousineau's paths cross one last time. Sarah Goldberg's performance in the latter half of the season still haunts me, and imagery from this consistently shocking and brilliant show lives in my head rent-free. - RJ
5. “The Bear” (FX)
Imagine an exquisite plate of food. Heaped high with varying textures (crunchy, creamy, crispy, chewy), each bite creates in your mouth a new, perfectly balanced combination of flavors—tart, sweet, spicy, umami, bitter. When you set down your fork, you marvel at the new world you’ve explored, and walk away satisfied, but also made new.
“The Bear” has pulled off the same feat. Its second season focused on Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) finally planning and opening the restaurant he’d dreamt of with his late brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal). Creator Christopher Storer evenly flavored the ten episode: tartness in the form of generational trauma, aided by a devastating Jamie Lee Curtis as the unbalanced Berzatto matriarch and Bob Odenkirk as her aggravating boyfriend; sweetness and spice in the form of Carmy’s burgeoning relationship with ER doctor Claire (Molly Gordon, lovely in the part); the magnificent Ayo Edebiri as Sydney, who is struggling to keep bitterness at bay as she embarks on what she considers her last attempt to lead a restaurant kitchen; and Ebon Moss-Bachrach, with a brief assist from the wondrous Olivia Colman, brings the warmth of umami, for Richie discovers that hospitality is in fact his road to success, and more importantly, self-respect.
The needle drops are spectacular: Tangerine Dream for Michael Mann-inspired nostalgia, Pearl Jam and Animal for heft, Wilco for joy and sorrow, David Byrne for longing. (I need another 1000 words to talk about the show’s tribute to Chicago-area restaurants and their gorgeous offerings.) By limiting most episodes to 30 minutes, Storer has smartly given us just enough to eat, but my knife and fork hunger for season three. - NB
4. “Beef” (Netflix)
Netflix took some blows this year in the public eye when it came to both the strike and the increasing sense that it’s a company that plays to an algorithm more than a creative impulse. The exception to their 2023 narrative was their best program by far in this excellent drama about two people from very different walks of life who collide, bounce off each other, and collide again. When Amy Lau (Ali Wong, doing career-best work) almost runs into Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) in a parking lot, it sets dominos falling that will rattle both of their lives. In that sense, it feels like a very 2020s show. This is a decade defined by conflict and unexpected crisis in so many ways. “Beef” understands how those twists and turns can send off in entirely new directions.
Much has been written about the great performances from Yeun and Wong, and they’re both phenomenal, but a moment here to praise arguably the best writing on TV this year. Lee Sung Jin keeps his characters from descending into two-dimensional clichés, taking the time to fill out their lives in a way that makes their inevitable collision more thrilling and believable. We wouldn’t necessarily do what Danny and Amy do in “Beef,” but we come to understand why they make the decisions they do. This is a show that values character above all else, giving us two of the richest of the decade so far. - BT
3. “The Last of Us” (HBO)
While zombie media dominated the 2010s, it seemed like the subgenre was finally ready to take a break in the 2020s. Then came the announcement that the popular video game “The Last of Us,” would be receiving a television adaptation. While fans of the game were skeptical, once the show premiered it became clear that the source material was in the right hands. The show isn’t bound by its genre, flipping cliches on their head and instead focusing on the very human aspects of a fractured and oftentimes desolate world.
The show's third episode is proof of this, abandoning the action-packed pace of the first two episodes to instead focus on Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), who aren’t even directly connected to the central story. Here is where it became clear that this adaptation was more concerned with the idea of creating bonds in a world where human connection could potentially lead to one's downfall. From newcomer Lamar Johnson to veterans like Melanie Lynskey, each actor who graces the show's frame are given a chance to display their talents, delivering heart wrenching monologues that we can only anticipate will continue with the show’s anticipated second season. – KS
2. “Reservation Dogs” (FX)
Grief is always hard but there are good and bad ways to die and mourn. That’s the central thesis of the uproariously funny “Reservation Dogs.” And yes, I know grief doesn’t sound funny. But over three seasons, Sterlin Harjo’s opus has followed four, Indigenous teenage friends as they figure out some hard lessons about life and death. We meet them when they’re reeling from the friend’s suicide and Elora (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor) are acting out in ways both hilarious and harmful.
We have watched them grow. In its final season, “Reservation Dogs” offers an alternative to all that suffering. The show concludes with a good death—the ending of a life well-lived and mourned openly in community. The young ones even guide the way, having learned from their trip to California how to say goodbye. It’s a powerful treatise on what really matters. And, because Hollywood generally ignores Native creatives in favor of either erasing their communities as a whole or letting white guys tell their stories, “Reservation Dogs” comes with a voice that will surprise non-Indigenous folks with its clarity, self-knowledge, and humor. - CE
1. “Succession” (HBO)
For four glorious, bon-mot-filled seasons, we’ve been waiting with bated breath to see which of “Succession”’s craven, manipulative, occasionally pitiable Roy children would seize the ring from their withholding father, Logan (Brian Cox). And yet, creator Jesse Armstrong would kick off the show’s final act with a turn so genius no one could predict it: Just four episodes in, Logan does, offscreen, on a plane, with the rest of the clan trying frantically to figure out whether he’s truly gone.
It’s a move that’s maddening for the viewer, yet quintessentially “Succession,” a show that has always left viewers swimming in moral and thematic ambiguity.
Are the Roys irredeemably evil avatars of capitalism’s most pathetic excesses? Are they lost little boys and girls trapped in the darkness of their father’s shadow no matter how far they try to escape its reach? The answer is both and neither of those things and much more, all wrapped up in Armstrong’s pitch-perfect, tragicomic dialogue. It’s fitting, then, that the show would grant none of these broken people the brass ring—the thing they would tear down anything, from marriages to democracy itself, to grab. - CW