in Top Ten

Every year we do three weeks of top 10 posts: first albums, then TV shows, and finally movies. We do them in exactly that order because that roughly reflects how late into the year each of those three industries are putting out noteworthy new releases – it’s a survival strategy that gives us the most time possible to consume interesting media. But in 2023 we had a big strike that fucked things up, and it made it even harder to deny an uncomfortable truth. So this year I’m trying something: dropping the word “television” from this post’s title.

I think maybe we’ve outgrown the term “TV show,” since shows (and movies) are now made for online streaming platforms and definitely not over-the-air broadcast television. Maybe “series” would be better than “shows” on its own? “Series” maybe more evocatively hits on the most meaningful distinction between the stuff on this week’s list and next week’s: duration. Seasons have gotten shorter and binge releases are common, so how do we differentiate a season from an eight-hour film? This is a bit of a stretch, but are shows and movies really that much more different now than LPs and EPs are? Are there a generation of kids right now who don’t really differentiate between TikTok, YouTube, shows, and movies? It’s all just “content” we watch, right? Does Killers of the Flower Moon (now streaming on Apple TV+) not have an intermission because that would bring it too close to being a miniseries?

TV may be dead but at least I got to hear my friends complain about MILF Manor and The Idol.

For me, the strike didn’t really impact 2023 as I never got close to running out of things to watch (plus I had this whole diversion into watching One Piece that… let’s just not get into). I imagine it’s this year where the real content drought will be felt. When that happens, hopefully I’ll remember to finish watching the latest seasons of…

Harley Quinn
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The Other Two
Party Down
Poker Face
The Righteous Gemstones
Star Trek: Picard

And that’s not to mention all the other shows I didn’t watch at all, like…

The Curse
For All Mankind

Also there was a bunch of really good TV that I actually *did* watch that wouldn’t fit in a top 10 and, to prove that, here are five animated shows I really liked:

My Adventures with Superman
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Spy x Family
Star Trek: Lower Decks

With those honorable mentions done, here’s the actual top 10:

10. What We Do in the Shadows

The fifth season of What We Do in the Shadows had Nandor, Laszlo, Nadja, Colin Robinson, and Guillermo reckoning with who they are. Mostly Guillermo though, as we followed the ramifications of the previous season’s finale when he decided to have Derek turn him into a vampire after being sick of Nandor leading him on. This was maybe the strongest season-long arc in the show’s history, and thankfully it didn’t get in the way of plenty of hilarious one-off adventures. My favorite episode was the third one, “Pride Parade,” which had some of the most insanely-conceived subplots in the series’ history, including Nadja trying to help her doll get laid and Nandor flying to space. Plus I bought that shirt and wore it on Halloween. Somebody flipped me off! Any concerns about this show growing long in the tooth were drained away by the announcement that season six will be its last… and my personal realization that the strike probably delayed that season to 2025.

9. Cunk on Earth

Charlie Brooker is more than Black Mirror and unraveling the web that led to Cunk on Earth shows just how busy a boy he is. Starting in the 2000s, Brooker did a few different satirical news shows all with “wipe” as part of their title, one of which being Weekly Wipe which introduced Diane Morgan as the ill-informed investigative reporter Philomena Cunk. Morgan is hilarious so she got her own spinoff mockumentary miniseries, Cunk on Britain, in which Cunk retold British history through a bunch of disastrous interviews with real-life experts. Cunk on Earth is the sequel to that, expanding from the UK to all of world history (but still in a very British five episodes). I had no familiarity with this character and only knew Diane Morgan from some clips of Ricky Gervais’ terrible After Life that got posted on reddit, but I’m glad I decided to watch this show anyway because it made me laugh a whole bunch. Never forget that Sir Walter Raleigh was a buccaneering character who was able to manage his emotions whilst engaging with potatoes at first sight.

8. Barry

While perhaps not reaching the same heights as season three, the final season of Barry delivered on the laughs, terror, and genuine surprises that I came to expect from this spectacular cast and especially Bill Hader, who in the end had graduated to directing every single episode. I really appreciate this show for not drawing out the drama and instead finding excitement in being unpredictable. This whole season follows the repercussions of Barry being exposed as a serial killer and arrested. I waited for Dexter to do this for years before I finally gave up on it! The prison shootout is definitely among my favorite scenes of the whole year. Yeah, things got really weird at the end, big deal! That’s cool too. And now we wait for Bill Hader to make his horror movie.

7. Taskmaster

The fact that more than 16 seasons plus a bunch of international versions has not slowed down Taskmaster is a testament to the genius of Alex Horne and Greg Davies and whoever all devises this show. 2023 gave us a New Year Treat that included Countdown‘s Carol Vorderman; Rebecca Lucy Taylor, aka the musician Self Esteem; and viral Internet interviewer Amelia Dimoldenberg; but it was Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah that stole my heart. Series 15 brought long-awaited contestants Frankie Boyle and Ivo Graham, two newer folks I loved getting to meet in Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Mae Martin, and iconic grumpy old woman Jenny Eclair. And then Series 16 was maybe the best the show has ever been? I think Julian Clary, Lucy Beaumont, Sam Campbell, Sue Perkins, and Susan Wokoma were just perfect, both individually and as teams. The Taskmaster Hotel task was such a funny idea and it shows how fun their dynamic was, with the Susans having a great time while the chaos trio broke Alex down until he noped out. I remember I got into Taskmaster around Leap Day 2020, so it’s been about four years I’ve been obsessed with this show and I guess I’m never gonna give it up.

6. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Against all odds, Star Trek is good again. By all accounts, the third season of Picard was exactly what everyone wanted. Lower Decks is the ultimate fan service vehicle, and since it’s just a silly cartoon that’s OK. Strange New Worlds continued the tradition of being a throwback to TOS in all the best ways, and its second season was arguably even better than its first. Sticking to an episodic structure allowed the show to explore a different genre or tone every week, with the highlight probably being the musical episode, featuring new music by Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo. But my favorite was the crossover episode with Lower Decks, which brought Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid out of the future and into live action and made me smile all over.

5. Ted Lasso

Look, I won’t deny that Ted Lasso changed with Bill Lawrence’s departure and Jason Sudeikis taking full creative control. But just because the show wasn’t as consistently amazing didn’t mean I didn’t look forward to it a helluva lot every week while it was on. The final season managed to fit in a bunch of really great, moving, hilarious moments. During the season this spring, I found myself re-watching each episode weekly just because I so love this cast and version of London and worldview. I don’t think we need any more of Ted Lasso, but if they wanna do a spin-off, I’ll be there day one.

4. Jujutsu Kaisen

By most otaku standards, I don’t watch a lot of anime. Barely any at all. By everyone else’s standards, I watched a whole lot of anime in 2023. While Attack on Titan‘s finale might have been the best individual… Movie? Miniseries? Of the year, my favorite show ended up being Jujutsu Kaisen, which surprised me because when I started it I thought it was derivative as hell. Basically it’s a show about a school that teaches kids how to be sorcerers so they can fight the living embodiment of curses across Japan. So it’s extremely Naruto, Bleach, Yu Yu Hakusho, etc. Except season two constantly surprised me with jaw-dropping animation and a bunch of crazy moments that I never saw coming. If you are hankering for some shonen fun, jump right in on JJK! Note: “jujutsu” is a different thing than “jiujitsu.”

3. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

I Think You Should Leave just kept creeping up this list as I was working on it until somehow it had worked its way up to my third spot. My strongest argument against that: in total, season three is like an hour and a half of comedy. But the stronger argument for it: it’s the hour and a half that made me laugh the hardest all year. Sometimes it’s just that simple. I’m not a stupid fuckin’ idiot. I know it was just a pig. But for 50 seconds, it felt really real. And when you think you’re gonna get eaten and your first thought is “great, I don’t have to go to work tomorrow”? You’re relieved you don’t have to go to work because you thought you were gonna get eaten? What the fuck is this world? What have they done to us? What did they do to us?!

2. Succession

If I’m being honest, a lot of the time in previous seasons, I wasn’t on Succession‘s wavelength. Like, I appreciated the show as a drama and a comedy but I didn’t realize everything it was trying to do until each individual season finale. So I did not mind at all that they went easy mode with the last batch of episodes. The concept was very simple: the issue of ownership of Waystar Royco would finally be settled at a pace of one day per episode. Obviously this was set over an extremely tumultuous period for the Roy family, but that deliberately slow place really let the show luxuriate in its strengths. Namely its terrific cast, with Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Sarah Snook, and Jeremy Strong all getting to do some of their best work in their careers while the rest of the cast waited for their hilariously juicy moments to strike. Also Will Ferrell never showed up? Was anyone else surprised by that? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

1. The Bear

If we all don’t have the same one and two this year, I’ll be surprised. The Bear and Succession just cleaned up at the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards, and for good reason (although if you think our awards are late, take notice of the fact that the Emmys The Bear won this week were for season one). Nothing felt as close to must-watch TV as these two shows and given the choice between them, I’ll give an edge to the one with characters I actually want to root for. Carmy’s decision at the end of season one to close his family’s sandwich shop and reinvent it as the restaurant of his and his fellow chefs’ dreams hit immediate stumbling blocks this year, but that just made me (and everyone else, I imagine) root even harder for them to succeed. Season two was all about getting to know everyone better and seeing how Carmy was guiding them down the path to self-actualization, which was really rewarding and moving and of course led to an extremely dramatic final episode. But seriously, they need to stomp implying Sydney might be really sick or something, that tiny subplot that didn’t really go anywhere this year scares the shit out of me.