The 15 Best TV Shows of 2023 So Far, From “The Bear” to “Queen Charlotte”
With nine months of the year nearly behind us (and much of the TV release calendar up in the air because of the ongoing strikes), we’re looking back at some of the TV shows that have stood out from the pack in 2023. Some of them are Emmy nominees, like HBO’s “Succession” and “The Last of Us.” Meanwhile, others like “Queen Charlotte” and “Mrs. Davis” are new to the scene. And some are TV stalwarts that have been going strong for years – and yes, we do mean “Vanderpump Rules.”
Ultimately, it’s been a good year for TV; there are plenty of good and great shows that didn’t make our list that we happily spent many hours in front of this year. There are also the shows that make good background TV (a chronically underappreciated category), the reality TV competitions that we became way too invested in, and the series that inspired strong, passionate fandoms. During this time when both writers and actors are on strike, recounting the best TV shows of the year is in many ways an appreciation of their efforts. Every moment of TV magic is possible only because of writers, actors, and other members of the crew who bring them to life, many of whom are often compensated much less than their ideas are worth.
Ahead, these are our best TV shows of 2023 so far.
"The Last of Us"
Much has been made of the so-called video game adaptation curse. Almost every adaptation is derided by fans as too faithful or not faithful enough. Expectations were sky-high for the first season of “The Last of Us,” which is based on the video game of the same name. The HBO series is incredibly faithful to the source material, but Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s performances as the show’s main characters often feel miraculous. And one of the places where the show most diverged from the source material – the episode about Bill and Frank – was one of this year’s best hours. – Victoria Edel, staff writer, TV and movies
"Power Book II: Ghost"
For the last three years, “Power Book II: Ghost” has made a splash as perhaps the best installment in the drug-fueled Power Universe. While many initially doubted if the Tariq St. Patrick-led (Michael Rainey Jr.) spinoff could measure up to its predecessor, the show’s third season has proved to be its best one yet. Between Lauren’s (Paige Hurd) reemergence, a lot of deaths, shocking hookups, gut-wrenching betrayals, and a full-out war, it seems like “Power Book II” still has plenty more up its sleeve. And we don’t have to wait long to find out what drama happens next – season four is already on the way. – Njera Perkins, associate editor, celebrity and entertainment
If, like me, you are a longtime “Vanderpump Rules” viewer, you know many seasons are top-tier television. Yet still, in its 10th season, “Pump Rules” became must-see TV thanks to the secret affair between Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss. No, a cheating scandal isn’t the most groundbreaking plot on a reality show, but since Tom had been with Ariana Madix for nine years and Raquel had often described Ariana, also her costar, as one of her best friends, the drama was high-octane. Though Tom and Raquel’s relationship wasn’t revealed on camera until the season’s last episodes, the knowledge it was going on made every episode before absolutely must-see heading into a reunion that, for once, truly lived up to the hype. – VE
Talk about a show that can make you cry your eyes out and laugh so hard your cheeks hurt. Hulu’s “UnPrisoned” is criminally underrated for its unconventional father-daughter story, which follows perfectionist relationship therapist Paige (Kerry Washington) and her dysfunctional life with her teenage son, Finn (Faly Rakotohavana), and formerly incarcerated dad, Edwin (Delroy Lindo). The series, which debuted in March, is based on author and creator Tracy McMillan’s own life story, mixing humor and heart to address the very real aftereffects of America’s criminal justice system. The show has so much more to explore, like the aftermath of Paige and Mal’s (Marque Richardson) relationship, so we’re crossing our fingers for a renewal. – NP
“Succession” had the unenviable task of trying to wrap up four seasons of nail-biting drama and intrigue in a way everyone would find satisfying. And, somehow, they did it. When I look back on the final season months later, the thing I remember most is how palpably and sharply the show explored grief. Even in these detestable, horrible characters, the “Succession” crew were able to create one of the most honest and realistic portraits of what grief really looks like – with some delicious backstabbing drama on top. – VE
I’m not big on watching basketball, but Apple TV+’s “Swagger” still managed to make a fan out of me. The Kevin Durant-inspired sports drama, which follows the story of basketball prodigy Jace Carson (Isaiah Hill) and his teammates, aired its second season this summer. This time, viewers got to see the Swagger boys grow as high school graduates and almost national champions through some emotionally gripping plots. Like Jace getting revenge against Crystal’s (Quvenzhané Wallis) sexually abusive basketball coach, which comes back to haunt him and his partners in crime and nearly strips them of their bright futures. There are also some sweet storylines, like Jace and Crystal’s newfound romance, which may become long-distance should the show return for a third season. For our sake, we hope it does.– NP
“The Bear” returned for its second season this summer with sky-high expectations. The first season marked it as one of the freshest shows of 2022, but the series returned for a second round with even more insight and depth. Season two opens up the scope of the show a little bit more, with standout episodes focusing specifically on Marcus (Lionel Boyce) and Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney also gets the chance to shine as she tries to figure out her place in the restaurant they’re building. At the center of the chaos is the Berzatto family, and season two helped us understand Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and sister Sugar (Abby Elliott) even more. Add in some titillating guest stars, and this season was one for the record books.
The only fly in our soup? FX has yet to announce a renewal for season three. We hope it’s just an oversight. – VE
If there’s a hall of fame for TV crime dramas, “Snowfall” definitely deserves a spot. The gritty, ’80s-set FX series aired its sixth and final season earlier this year, bringing a bleak story about the crack cocaine epidemic to an utterly tragic ending – all helmed by a masterful performance from Damson Idris. Over the course of the show – co-created by the late John Singleton – viewers watched Idris’s Franklin Saint transform from a lanky college dropout and part-time weed dealer to a gruesome kingpin whose ego got too big for his own good. It’s unfortunate that in its six-season run, “Snowfall” never earned a single Emmy nomination, despite being lauded as one of the best crime shows of the past two decades. But for many fans, it’ll always be celebrated as a true-to-life TV gem and one of Singleton’s crown jewels. – NP
“Jury Duty” came out of nowhere and became a massive hit this spring for Amazon’s FreeVee streaming service. The show follows Ronald Gladden, a normal guy who gets picked for a jury. He thinks they’re filming a documentary about what being a juror is like, but actually, he’s the unknowing star of a TV show because everyone else around him is an actor. James Marsden got an Emmy nomination for playing himself, but this laugh-out-loud comedy succeeds on the strength of its ensemble and Gladden’s innate goodness. When things could turn cruel, Gladden’s kindness and sense of justice shine through at every chance. When he finds out what’s really going on, he reacts with such sweetness and genuine warmth that I myself cried. – VE
This “Bridgerton” prequel is just as sexy as the series’s first two seasons, but it goes to even more emotional and complex places than its predecessors. Its exploration of King George’s harrowing struggles with mental illness and Queen Charlotte’s journey to finding her place as the queen makes for a gripping, achingly romantic, and completely heartbreaking story. A side plot involving Lady Danbury’s youth adds layers of nuance and romantic tension. Of course, there are plenty of unforgettable fashion choices and lavish parties along the way for lovers of “Bridgerton”‘s decadent Regency-era aesthetic. – Eden Arielle Gordon, assistant editor, celebrity and entertainment
“Yellowjackets” season two had big shoes to fill after its smash-hit first season. Would the team finally resort to its long-teased cannibalism? How could things get even bleaker? But season two was up for the task. The Showtime series delivered some absolutely heartbreaking deaths – and some truly disgusting acts of cannibalism. This season, the younger cast got the chance to shine as the most dramatic, upsetting plots focused on the past, and each of them rose to the challenge. – V.E.
“Mrs. Davis”‘s premise alone is enough to raise eyebrows – it follows an ex-nun following an artificial intelligence’s orders to find the Holy Grail. The chaos only escalates from there, but amid all the bombastic action sequences, religious references, and wild twists, it also manages to raise big questions about AI that have only become more relevant since it aired. Ultimately, though, “Mrs. Davis” is a wildly creative and deeply human love story, and it’s all tied together by Betty Gilpin’s emotional, empathetic performance. – EG
“Extraordinary” dropped with very little fanfare on Hulu in January, but you shouldn’t let this gem go overlooked. The comedy series is about a world where just about everyone gets superpowers on their 18th birthday. Our lead, Jen (Máiréad Tyers), is one of the unlucky ones without powers. The series hilariously follows her as she tries to navigate her superpowered world, where powers vary from super strength and flight to being able to use your butt as a 3D printer. “Extraordinary” isn’t afraid to make Jen pretty unlikable, and it all amounts to one of the best comedies of the year. – VE