From Succession’s mind-scrambling, last-minute twist to that sad-as-fuck episode of The Last Of Us, 2023 has brought some unforgettable telly moments. With the help of a slightly smaller pool than usual (thank you, writers strike) and after a lot of intense debate (shouting) in the office, we’ve whittled down our list of the year’s must-watch shows to a lean 20.
Comprising starry sci-fi epics, rude cartoons, awesome anime, gripping restaurant dramas, laugh-out-loud comedy classics and loads more, the below ranking is definitely enough to get you through the festive season. In fact, you might as well tuck in now!
Words: Nikita Achanta, Elizabeth Aubrey, Paul Bradshaw, Liberty Dunworth, Alex Flood, Nick Levine, James Mottram, Kevin EG Perry, Gary Ryan, Ali Shutler, Andrew Trendell, Sophie Williams
A fan favourite, after her appearance in Star Wars animations The Clone Wars and Rebels, alien warrior Ahsoka Tano – played by Rosario Dawson – finally got her own live-action series after being introduced in The Mandalorian.
Developed by Star Wars regular Dave Filoni, pleasingly, this female-driven, eight-episode show didn’t just rely on Ahsoka, but other characters from the Rebels series including Ahsoka’s former apprentice Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and the New Republic general Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
The big moment of the series was seeing Ahsoka’s deceased master Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) back in the World Between Worlds, as well as flashes of the monster he became, Darth Vader. But he wasn’t the only villain on call: the blue-faced Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) made for an admirable adversary. Filled with grab-your-seat action and some beguilingly beautiful moments (the space whales!), this was one of the best Star Wars shows since early episodes of The Mandalorian.
Best episode: ‘Shadow Warrior’
Watercooler moment: The epic lightsaber duel between Ahsoka and Anakin Skywalker. JM
Season two of this time-travelling superhero adventure picked up right where the first left off: with the killing of big bad He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) by Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), pushing Norse God Of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into an alternate timeline where no one recognises him.
In the new episodes, we followed Loki as he teamed up with his pals at the more-fun-that-it-sounds regulatory body the TVA (Time Variance Authority) to prevent the fabric of the universe from disintegrating further. Funny, visually stunning and surprisingly akin to a buddy cop movie thanks to Loki and Mobius’ fizzing chemistry, it also had us reaching for the tissues with some of Marvel’s most moving moments yet.
Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see Tom Hiddleston don the green cape – and can the other MCU shows please take note? They could learn a thing or two from creator Michael Waldron’s impeccable writers room.
Best episode: ‘Glorious Purpose’
Watercooler moment: That heartbreaking throwback to 2011’s Thor when Loki said: “For you, for all of us”. Only this time, the words came with a sad smile. NA
18 ‘Big Mouth’
Nick Kroll’s animated exploration of puberty has been TV’s funniest and filthiest show since it first aired in 2017, mixing expertly written dirty jokes with surprisingly insightful analysis of what it’s like to be a teenager in the TikTok age.
This new season, however, had the gang beginning to grow up. Horny Andrew seemed determined to ditch his “perverted” ways before he enters high school, but accidentally groped an older jock’s girlfriend and immediately became an outcast. Meanwhile, little Nick got some attention from a cool girl and quickly abandoned his mates. Then there was bookish Missy, whose growing sexual urges got impossible to ignore; and rebellious Jessi, unconsciously attracted to the weed-smoking, combat-jacketed outsider group.
Sadly, Netflix has announced season eight will be the series’ last – so we won’t witness too much of what happens next. Let’s hope they go out with an, er, bang.
Best episode: ‘The International Show’
Watercooler moment: In the above episode, hormone monsters Maurice and Connie went on a semen-stained world tour, stopping off to meet masturbation-mad youngsters in South Korea, India, Kenya and more. AF
Alice Oseman’s queer coming-of-age series continued to be a sweet, sweet fantasy (baby), but it was a gorgeously warm and important one. The central relationship between rugby-loving Nick (Kit Connor) and self-effacing Charlie (Joe Locke) developed with the same tenderness that made season one such a delight, especially in its sensitive portrayal of Charlie’s eating disorder. But this time around, Oseman placed more focus on their wider friendship group: we saw Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney) grappling with their feelings for one another and Isaac (Tobie Donovan) embracing his asexuality.
Once again, every touching moment unfolded to a pitch-perfect indie-pop soundtrack featuring Beabadoobee, Baby Queen and Gao’s band Wasia Project. At a time when trans people in particular are being used as a political football by the Tory government, Heartstopper’s empathetic and fundamentally hopeful vision of LGBTQ+ adolescence was more of a tonic than ever.
Best episode: ‘Perfect’
Watercooler moment: Nick coming out to his dad at the dinner table, and calling out his homophobic brother in the process. NL
16 ‘Only Murders In The Building’
Season three of the much-loved whodunnit was its best offering yet: a gripping murder-mystery centred around the death of leading actor Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd) in Oliver’s (Martin Short) Broadway return
The show cleverly kept audiences guessing to the very end thanks to its meticulously plotted list of suspects – not least Glenroy’s co-star Loretta Durkin, played by the brilliant Meryl Streep. The unlikely true crime podcasting team of neighbours Charles (Steve Martin), Mabel (Selena Gomez) and Oliver once again sleuthed their way to the truth in a show full of humour, character and heart. But the real scene-stealers this time around were Short and Streep, whose romance side-story proved just as gripping as the main mystery itself.
The season’s shocking ending – and the death of a beloved recurring character – proved no one’s ready to hang up their deerstalker just yet though, setting up a thrilling opening to season four.
Best episode: ‘Ah, Love!’
Watercooler moment: The jaw-dropping moment Glenroy sprang back to life… only to die (again) a short time later! EA
15 ‘Attack On Titan’
Season: four (final episodes)
Dragging out an ending is an artform, and the Japanese seem to have perfected it. Not content with splitting the fourth and final season of this hit anime into two parts, producers decided to tack on an extra couple of supersized episodes this year. We’re not complaining, of course, who wouldn’t want more of mankind’s thrilling fight against the giant bloodthirsty titans?
These final adventures proved to be some of the best yet too – with young warrior Eren Yeager’s epic journey coming to an exciting and emotional close. The show’s unusual release schedule has tested even the most diehard fans’ patience, but for those who stayed the course it was well worth the wait. And who knows, we may yet be talking about another set of final, final instalments this time next year. You wouldn’t bet against it…
Best episode: ‘The Final Chapters (Part 2)’
Watercooler moment: Mikasa’s impossible choice makes for one of anime’s most breathtaking moments ever. AF
14 ‘Gen V’
This spin-off from the brutal, brilliant world of The Boys might take place in a university for superheroes but that doesn’t mean Gen V dialed down the chaos to make it more kid-friendly. It started with a gang of teenage supes desperately trying to improve their rankings so they could land a high-profile job when they graduate but things quickly spiralled.
Throughout the series, our scrappy, complicated gang of heroes uncovered mysteries and quickly learned that The Boys’ universe was full of betrayal. Oh, and the occasional exploding of a body part. The action was smart, but never convoluted. Gory, but self-aware. There are plenty of ties to the main series, with an impressive range of cameos and a few universe-altering plot points, but Gen V’s frantic first season confidently stood as its own glorious thing. Plus, we’ll never be able to watch a Marvel movie in the same way again.
Best episode: ‘God U’
Watercooler moment: Sam (Asa Germann)’s Muppet-mangling rampage. AS
Squid Game might have shocked the world in 2021, but this year, Bargain upped the stakes even more. In a commentary on the horrors of capitalism, director Jeon Woo-sung unravelled a twisting tale that began with a school girl attempting to sell her virginity to a seedy man but quickly shifted into said creep having his organs auctioned off to the highest bidder by the girl’s trafficking ring. When an earthquake hit in the middle of the auction, it brought even more unscrupulous characters out of the woodwork to hammer home the show’s points in ever wilder ways.
Bargain excelled not just in its jaw-dropping storyline but the way it was presented on screen too. Filmed in one-take shots, it made the rubble of the hotel it was largely set in feel claustrophobically real, every dark, dingy and crumbling corner closing in on you as the characters moved through the building towards their goal.
Best episode: six
Watercooler moment: When the true intentions of Joo-young were revealed and Hyung-soo became the centre of a bidding war over his organs. RD
12 ‘Sex Education’
The show that revolutionised the way sex is portrayed on screen was slightly less explicit in its final season, but no less warm and witty.
It began with Otis (Asa Butterfield), Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and the gang transferring to Cavendish, a sixth form college so levelled-up it looked like a wellness retreat for tech bros. With Jean (Gillian Anderson) adapting to parenthood and Maeve (Emma Mackey) studying in the US, it felt less focused to begin with, but soon found its feet.
In fact, it remains the rare TV show that can tackle everything from a testicular cancer scare to the side effects of testosterone treatment with heart and laughs. And surely the only one with the twisted genius to show a character being wanked off to the sound of T’Pau’s ‘China In Your Hand’.
So long, Sex Education, and thanks for the memories.
Best episode: seven
Watercooler moment: Otis accidentally showing his (terrible) dick pics to the entire school. NL
Regardless of whether you grew up with Horrible Histories or not, if you sat down to watch the cast making new mischief on this lovable BBC sitcom, you’d found a new comfort show. Kicking off in 2019, the series maintained its peak season upon season – and this year’s finale was no exception. Not only did it deliver the same tongue-in-cheek humour as was expected after four seasons, but the final chapter also saw writers unveil new sides to the series even as the characters said goodbye. From seeing the Captain (Ben Willbond) finally share his story of forbidden love, to the plot twist that none of the remaining ghosts would move into the next stage of the afterlife (or, as Mary (Katy Wix) would prefer, “get sucked off”), the last season wasn’t a traditional ending, but it definitely left us wanting more.
Best episode: ‘Carpe Diem’
Watercooler moment: Kitty (Lolly Adefope) wasn’t murdered by her jealous sister… she died because she picked up a pineapple? LD
10 ‘Jury Duty’
There’s never been a show quite like Jury Duty before. An audacious blend of The Truman Show and The Office, this documentary-style comedy series took unsuspecting civilian Ronald Gladden and surrounded him with a cast of improv actors to form the jury in an increasingly absurd (and entirely fabricated) court case. Gladden, a solar panel contractor from San Diego, was the only one who didn’t know the case was real. Thrown into a string of bizarre scenarios, both in the jury’s hotel and the courtroom itself, he still somehow emerged victorious as a big-hearted hero. The lengths the show’s producers had to go to in order to keep up their ruse seem mind-boggling, but it’s all worth it when the result was this jaw-droppingly hilarious. The presence of Hollywood star James Marsden, meanwhile, simply acted to ramp up the ‘this-can’t-be-happening’ factor still further. Had to be seen to be believed.
Best episode: ‘The Verdict’
Watercooler moment: Marsden learns about the sexual act of ‘soaking’ – then gets involved. KEGP
Of those who tuned into Barry back in 2018, intrigued by the wholly-bizarre yet wholly-original concept of an expert assassin on a quest to become an amateur actor, few could have predicted the emotional rollercoaster they were about to get swept up by.
While earlier episodes established the series as an outlandish comedy-drama, in its final chapter, Barry became a series that refused to be confined. Characters like Hank (Anthony Carrigan), initially developed as comedic relief, were effortlessly transformed into delivering the most heartbreaking scenes, while once-innocent bystanders like acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) were led onto a darker path – finding themselves capable of the same merciless violence associated with the eponymous lead. By the jaw-dropping final episode, there were no longer any simply ‘good’ or simply ‘bad’ characters, bringing the story to its perfect conclusion.
Best episode: ‘Wow’
Watercooler moment: The heart-stopping final moments between Hank and Fuches (Stephen Root). LD
8 ‘Colin From Accounts’
Over the spring, this compelling, lightly chaotic Australian sitcom became something of a sleeper hit. For months, Colin From Accounts was a major talking point among TV fans across social media thanks to its balance of slapstick with pathos-laden observations about growth and ambition. It was the tenderness of the show that took many by surprise: the flawed and funny Ashley and Gordon – played by real-life couple Harriet Dyer and Patrick Brammall – provided laughs a-plenty while also mining the challenges of a blossoming relationship.
As Ashley and Gordon navigated the day-to-day disgruntlement that accompanied their unconventional living arrangement – which included looking after an injured dog together – the show movingly illustrated how difficult it can be to let your guard down after getting hurt in previous situationships. For every spiky gag there was an emotional gut-punch – a truly moving viewing experience.
Best episode: ‘Flash’
Watercooler moment: The awkward first encounter between Ashley and Gordon, following a nudity-based car accident. If you know, you know. SW
7 ‘Top Boy’
For 12 years, Top Boy followed the highs and lows of drug dealers Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson) as they built an empire in east London, with season five bringing everything to a brutal, bittersweet close. Following on from the events of the previous season, which saw Sully take his revenge on Jamie (Michael Ward) and end Dushane’s plans for retirement in the process, these episodes were all about their bruised brotherhood.
The arrival of a new gang from Ireland provided a chance for some more outlandish violence but Top Boy has always been about more than bloody confrontations. The ensemble cast allows the show to explore grief, community, gentrification and addiction with surprising tenderness, while the overarching story of season five was about breaking the cycles that have driven the story for over a decade. It was a gloriously ambitious ending to a show that’s always made big swings.
Best episode: ‘If We Are Not Monsters’’
Watercooler moment: The final few minutes of the series still has people talking, for all the right reasons. AS
6 ‘Boiling Point’
A rollicking, high-energy spinoff of the 2021 film of the same name, Boiling Point felt as though it was rocket-fuelled by fear and paranoia. Set in Point North, a new, uber-trendy east London restaurant serving Northern-inspired dishes, the four-part series continued the story of head chef Andy (Stephen Graham) in the aftermath of his heart attack, leaving protégé Carly (Vinette Robinson) on leadership duties.
Where the film was shot in a single take, the camera swooping around the kitchen each time a new drama arose, this series possessed a more frenetic energy via rapid cuts between scene and location. It made for a tense and occasionally tough watch, as arguments played out over smashed glasses and flame-engulfed pans. What is truly remarkable about Boiling Point, however, is each and every character felt truly human, regardless of their many ego clashes. Who wouldn’t want to root for a team with big dreams?
Best episode: ‘Menu Day’
Watercooler moment: The introduction of new boy Johnny, who fails to tell the difference between beef jus and a chocolate sauce during his first shift. Honestly. SW
5 ‘Poker Face’
What set Poker Face apart in the age of streaming was its embrace of old-school episodic storytelling. In Knives Out creator Rian Johnson’s ingenious ode to case-of-the-week dramas like Colombo, the always-enthralling Natasha Lyonne starred as human lie-detector waitress Charlie Cale, who was forced to go on the lam when her casino-owning mobster boss attempted to exploit her skill in a scam – with devastating consequences.
In each destination she stopped off in, she became embroiled in a brand-new mystery, ranging from resentful reunited heavy metal bands, feuding race-car drivers, to revenge-crazed former cult members in a retirement village – before calling (literal) “bullshit!” on the murderer’s carefully-constructed house of cards. Add in a procession of high-profile guest stars – including Ellen Barkin, Nick Nolte, and Chloë Sevigny – having the time of their lives and leaving teeth-marks on the scenery, and you had 2023’s most tremendously entertaining new show. No bullshit.
Best episode: ‘Dead Man’s Hand’.
Watercooler moment: The penultimate episode, ‘Escape From Shit Mountain’, upped the ante with a shocking twisty-turny snowbound slasher instalment boasting a chaotically evil performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. GR
4 ‘The Last Of Us’
The Super Mario Bros. Movie might have made a billion dollars this year but it was The Last Of Us that really laid the curse of the video game adaptation to rest – turning a game into a TV show that was worth watching even if you’d never picked up a controller.
It might have had classic zombie movie roots but Craig Mazin’s grown-up horror didn’t feel like anything that had been seen before – focusing on the living, instead of the living dead, and borrowing the best of an already impeccable story for a smart, elegant apocalypse drama that dared to take its time.
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were both perfectly cast (as were Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett in the show’s heart-breaking standout episode), while the mossy-green production design positively dripped off the screen. Anyone who’s played the second game knows what’s coming next, and it’s not going to be an easy watch…
Best episode: ‘Long, Long Time’
Watercooler moment: The arrival of the Bloater. Mushrooms have never looked the same since. PB
Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) was a down on his luck contractor, low on cash but forever dreaming and scheming. Amy Lau (Ali Wong) seemingly had it all: a good business, beautiful daughter and a loving (but dull) husband – but life among her arty set in suburbia couldn’t drown out the voices in her head screaming that something was missing.
Miles apart socially but spiritually connected in their feeling that they’re never enough, fate Danny and Amy together in a gnarly road rage incident before Danny sought revenge – big mistake. That seemingly polite rich lady was packing a whole lotta pent-up rage, sexual repression and bloodlust. One act of retribution only fuelled the next as our two protagonists became even more unwittingly entwined in another’s lives and shady goings on.
A soundtrack of late ‘90s and early ‘00s pop-rock bangers married a masterful score by Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak) to soundtrack 10 episodes so tense we were chomping on the remote. This was squeaky bum time TV at its very best.
Best episode: ‘Just Not All At The Same Time’
Watercooler moment: Everything that happened in the Vegas episode. How unfair is life? AT
Initially surprising, Jesse Armstrong’s decision to end Succession with an enthralling fourth season ultimately proved inspired. With mogul Logan (Brian Cox) finally popping his clogs – rather poetically, in the bathroom of a “PJ” – we saw his kids scrambling to inherit his power and clout before they became too toxic to care about.
At its best, Succession managed to evoke not sympathy – come on, that would be ridiculous – but at least a pang of sadness for these awful multimillionaires. The scene where Logan told his offspring that they weren’t “serious people” was utterly devastating because it was both cruel and deserved.
Never less than rambunctious and riveting, this final season also offered a welcome reminder that the 0.1% are just as messed up as the rest of us. They just behave so much worse.
Best episode: ‘With Open Eyes’
Watercooler moment: Logan meeting his maker in just the third episode – an audacious plot twist that none of us saw coming. NL
1 ‘The Bear’
The genius of The Bear’s second season was found in the quieter moments. No other series has since proved better at showing the shit endlessly hitting the fan, but it was the flashbacks, side-steps and breath-catching across these 10 perfect episodes that charred, sliced and tenderized harder than any of the kitchen chaos. Now preparing to reopen the business as a fine-dining restaurant, Carm’s foodie family took stock.
As each character slowly redefined themselves (Sydney finding her strengths, Richie finding his weaknesses, Marcus finding a really good-looking dessert in Copenhagen…), the show started to make us believe that things might actually work out for everyone. But this is The Bear, after all, and Jeremy Allen White is too good at trauma for Carm’s ever-simmering breakdown not to spill over into an explosive final episode that we’re still scraping off the walls. It might have been hard to stomach, but this was three Michelin-starred TV.
Best episode: ‘Fishes’
Watercooler moment: It’s not a Bear family dinner until someone throws a fork. PB