Nick’s Top Ten TV 2023

30th December 2023

The end of the year is nigh, it’s been a terrible one as usual, friends are pounding at the door trying to make you celebrate, and you’re looking for something to watch on the television to take your mind off it.

Well, fortunately I’m once again here to list my personal top shows, so you can catch up on them. As long as you have the exact same taste as me, you’ll be fine.

If you want an even wider pool of candidates, why not try something from the previous decade-plus worth of lists:

I haven’t done quite as well keeping up with the exciting new shows as last year. Caught a few, but the available time seemed to drain away just keeping caught up with the obvious candidates and existing favourites.

But still, I have a top ten I’m proud of, along with a few honourable mentions, plus the usual hardcore analysis in Stats Corner.

So lie back, open wide, here it comes…

#10 – Invincible

You can tell it’s been an okay year for watching the premium TV shows, because superhero adaptations still failed to make much of an impact. Here’s Invincible, the ongoing young-superhero animated saga on Amazon Prime, and that is more or less the last we’ll hear of them,

I enjoyed the first season of this show a lot, it captured the ongoing ebb, flow and shock of a good ongoing superhero comic better than most others, but I wondered how the second attempt would go as they’ve played one of their big cards in the Omni-Man storyline.

Happily, the first half of the second season keeps the momentum up, with a nice mix of playful superhero moments, ongoing mysteries and, yes, the signature bloody violence. To be honest, it’d probably be higher up if they’d dropped a bit more material this year. Is it really worth breaking your season in half when it’s only eight episodes long?

Stats Corner: Debuted at #7 in 2021, so taking a small drop here.

#9 – Extraordinary

Okay, I guess this one is also kinda a superhero show.

Such a high placement for Extraordinary kinda snuck up on me, but when I sat down to compile my listings for the year, I realised this was among the most fun I had watching TV in 2023.

It’s a superpowers-comedy, set in a world where everybody has a special ability – except, of course, our desperate, insecure lead character. It’s a fun, disgusting and at times surprisingly emotional British comedy-drama.

Everyone I knew who watched Extraordinary really enjoyed it, but it feels like not enough people did, so if you have Disney+, go give it a try. You can thank me later.

Stats Corner: Flying the flag for superhero comedy-drama, a subgenre I really enjoy when it pops up, last seen in Peacemaker at #6 last year.

#8 – Doctor Who

Good to see Doctor Who back and competing for a place in the chart during a reasonably competitive year. This entry, of course, encompasses the three specials featuring David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor, pus the Christmas episode introducing Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth.

And yes, considering Tennant was the Doctor who got me properly into the show, I was always going to enjoy his return lap. The most impressive part, really, was how quickly I found myself in a state of high emotion just from a few fairly brief exchanges between him and Catherine Tate’s Donna. I could nitpick, but all in, those specials served as a well-played celebratory tour of that era and everything I liked about it. A good time.

Similarly, Gatwa’s debut special felt very much like a Christmas special from late 2000s Who – overly silly and fluffy, but still provided a strong showcase for the actors to both lark around and hit a few great big festive emotions. I’m interested in seeing what they do with a whole series, and more importantly for this chart, pleased to be excited about Doctor Who again.

Stats Corner: Obviously, this is one show with a history to quote – starting during the Matt  Smith era at #6 in 2012 to #8 in 2013, before Peter Capaldi arrived at #7 in 2014 and #4 in 2015, dropping to #10 in 2017, then disappearing for a while before Jodie Whittaker popped back in at #10 in 2021. Fans of coincidence may enjoy noting Who is at the same chart position for its 60th anniversary as it was for the 50th.

#7 – The Last Of Us

One of this year’s big collective-experience TV viewing moments turned out to be The Last Of Us, the video game adaptation in which a grumpy man and a cute child team up against a hostile zombie-infested world.

Led by great performances from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, this show felt like a distilled shot of post apocalyptic despair, focused on character and the sheer toll this kind of world takes on you. Perhaps the most impressive thing was that it’s so good, people still loved it despite the overuse of zombies and post-apocalypses in recent years (not to mention our real life pandemic).

Plus, of course, the breakout standalone episode with Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett made us all weep buckets. The Last of Us really rode that wave of sadness into the history books.

Stats Corner: Last appearance of the zombie apocalypse was The Walking Dead, popping in at #7 in 2012.

#6 – Ghosts

We reviewed the fifth and final series of Ghosts on the podcast not long ago, and remarked that although the final run was extremely enjoyable, it didn’t have much of an ending. Perhaps, we theorised, they were gently transitioning the show into the British sitcom afterlife of occasional specials.

Well, now I’ve seen the 2023 Christmas episode, obviously they showed us and we should’ve just been more patient. Because yes, here is that true conclusion, an emotional thump, considerately saved up for when I watched with my family and felt awkward about audibly sobbing.

All in, then, Ghosts finished strong. Like many years-old sitcoms, the jokes perhaps grow familiar and I think they finished at the right time, but this show always did a good job of providing a fresh angle on the setup each year to stop it growing stale. It’ll rightly take its place as one of the lead British sitcoms of its era, alongside Derry Girls.

Stats Corner: #1 in 2021, when I watched the first few series in quick succession, and a reliable presence since then, at #8 last year and now finishing at #6.

#5 – Slow Horses

I spent much of last year watching The Americans, and before I even had time to suffer withdrawal from spy dramas, Apple TV launched Slow Horses. This is a series based on the Slough House novels by Mick Herron, about a bunch of loser spies sent to the cruddy basement of MI5 as punishment for various mistakes and embarrassments.

The show ends up as a combination of Spooks and The Thick Of It, a funny, clever, tense series that is perfectly happy slaughtering its characters, or simply having them verbally abused by Gary Oldman’s horrible boss.

They’re already three series in and I’ve enjoyed them all. I know hardly anyone has Apple TV, but if you do and you’ve ever enjoyed a spy show, get on Slow Horses. Also, respect to them for having one of the best theme tunes in recent TV history.

Stats Corner: Spooks has never appeared on this list, although The Thick Of It was #1 in 2012. Also, four British shows on the chart this year, which I think is the most since… again, 2012.

#4 – Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

A late contender, covered in the last full podcast of the year, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a strange show aimed at a very specific niche – people who liked Scott Pilgrim (the movie or the comic) and want to see it reinterpreted through a somewhat-2023 lens.

Because, yeah, I’m genuinely not sure how anyone outside that group would take this, but I’m thrilled Netflix decided to spend a wedge of money on targeting them. Here we have an alternate timeline, in which the events of the original story… go very differently, and the characters are forced down a more emotionally challenging route than just punching a succession of evil exes.

I’ll not say any more, as I think it’s better to watch this without spoilers, but if you liked Scott Pilgrim back in the day and haven’t seen this show, get involved. It’s funny, emotionally satisfying and pleasingly even sillier than the original.

Stats Corner: Of course, the previous chart record for a barely-comprehensible revisitation of an old story was Twin Peaks: The Return, which made #6 in 2017.

#3 – Poker Face

I enjoy a good gimmick-crime TV series – as long-term readers may distantly recall, I once wrote five novels which were basically a prose version of a such a show. I’m a little picky about which ones I watch, but once I’m in, I am IN.

And so we have Poker Face, a new entry in the genre staring Natasha Lyonne as a character with the never-explained infallible power to tell when people are lying. She travels the country, on the run from some Crime People she’s pissed off, and keeps stumbling across murders, using her ability to solve them.

Just loved this show – the lightfooted way it jumped through settings and inserted the main character into every one of them, the incidental characters, the elaborate setups. Not to mention, yes, they also make great use of Lyonne’s natural charm, in a way that seems more sustainable than Russian Doll. Great series. Hope they do more soon.

Stats Corner: The main prior appearance by a gimmick-crime show on this list was probably Hannibal, which was #2 in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Dr Lecter really is a consistent, methodical killer.

#2 – Succession

Hey, anyone heard of this show?

Yes, this is Succession, HBO’s Murdoch-satirising media-empire dying-patriarch drama. Along with The Last Of Us, one of the other big communal TV moments was the final run of this series.

Much has already been written on this topic, but yes, I liked it, it was good. Impressively they first nailed the serious moments early on in the season where the inevitable death took place, somehow making it both a surprise and emotionally devastating despite our justified contempt for most of the characters.

And then, yes, without skipping a beat, they turned back to their usual grim satire and reminded us that grief has not made these people any less awful. The ending gave us one final boardroom vote before everything went to shit, and then the breakdown we’d been waiting for all along.

I’d agree it was time for this show to end, as we’d seen all its moves. Every possible alliance combination was tried, and by the end of season 3, I felt myself itching at the cyclical nature of it all. And then the writers gave me what I wanted – a timely, correct-feeling conclusion. Excellent.

Stats Corner: No previous chart appearances, as I caned the first two seasons shortly before the third one, then found that a bit disappointing. So here Succession is, flaming out gloriously at #2.

#1 – The Bear

Out of curiosity and the desire for validation, I read a lot of TV year-end charts, so I’m aware many critics have this combination at the top for 2023: Succession, then The Bear.

Not gonna stop me though.

Because yeah, watching this second season of The Bear was the best TV experience I had this year, a genuine emotional journey. Must admit, I finished the first run wondering if we even needed a second. Surely they’d milked the intense-chaotic vibe for all they could?

Turns out, no, there’s room for more, and cleverly they changed things up, creating more of a slow character study, a pause to catch breath between the closing of the previous restaurant and the opening of the new.

It’s all very good, but special credit must go to the two best episodes – firstly the flashback episode set at a past Christmas, which brought the show’s signature culinary anarchy into a horrifying domestic venue.

Secondly, the one where Richie goes to work at a high-end restaurant and learns the value of service, which sounds trite but somehow ended up being one of the most affecting redemptive journeys I’ve seen on TV in ages.

And aas ever, get my emotions going, score highly in the TV chart. Watch The Bear, it’s good. Excited for season 3, and not even questioning whether it’s necessary this time.

Stats Corner: #2 last year. #1 now. Gonna be hard keeping standards up for this certificate.

Honourable Mentions

The last item cut from the list was Pluto, the Netflix anime whodunnit series about robots being murdered. Good stuff, some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen on TV in a while. Found it slightly meandering at times but if you’re into scifi-crime, well worth checking out.

I’m also currently watching The Diplomat, a new Netflix political comedy-drama which might’ve found its way into the mid-section of this list if I’d managed more than half the season. Still, an excellent consistent show so far, great central performance from Keri Russell.

Returning favourites What We Do In The Shadows and Only Murders In The Building also had good years, both coming off slightly disappointing previous ones.

Finally, as my big ineligible classic series viewing project, I watched all of Justified, which was absolutely excellent. Some of the best crime storytelling I’ve seen in the last few years. And then, of course, I also did this year’s sequel project Justified: City Primeval, which was good enough to avoid shaming the original but not quite up there with it. Fun to see Timothy Olyphant back as the character, but the story itself didn’t quite have that Justified spark. I’d still watch another season though.

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