Will this be the last year of good TV? That’s what I keep wondering as era-defining shows like Succession and Barry bow out, while promising newcomers like The Chair and Reboot get canceled after just one season, screenwriters strike over fair pay and the threat of AI, and platforms from Netflix to the newly rebranded Max double down on cheap, redundant reality and lifestyle programming. To be fair, I asked the same question about 2022 and 2021, and the answer was no. Either way, there will be plenty of time for doomsaying in the uncertain months ahead. Now it’s time to celebrate the best of streaming’s new chaos era—a list so hardcore, it goes to 11.
Bill Hader was still best known as a SNL alum when he and co-creator Alec Berg unveiled this black comedy about a mild-mannered hitman who tries to reinvent himself as an actor. In forming connections with his narcissistic acting teacher (Henry Winkler) and ambitious love interest (Sarah Goldberg), Hader’s Barry Berkman catches sight of a road to redemption. He just can’t seem to stop killing people for long enough to take it. Over time, his recidivism tilted the show ever farther in the direction of tragedy—until this spring’s fourth and last season answered, through a dramatic jailbreak and a daring time jump, the question of what atonement really means. Hader, now a full-fledged auteur who directed every episode of this final arc, stuck the landing; Barry has earned a place of honor in the antihero (or anti-antihero?) canon. As much as I’ll miss the show, I’m even more excited to see what Hader does next.
Anger—the prevailing emotion of our time—takes center stage in this stylish dark comedy from first-time creator Lee Sung Jin. In a life-shattering war of pranks, smears, and sabotages that begins with a random road-rage incident, characters played to seething perfection by Ali Wong and Steven Yeun scheme to annihilate one another. Grounded in the landscape of an economically polarized L.A. and the specifics of the city’s many discrete Asian American communities, this lively chronicle of two tandem nervous breakdowns considers the far-reaching consequences of tamping down ugly feelings until they revolt and take over your life.
Dead Ringers (Amazon)
Rachel Weisz stars opposite Rachel Weisz in a pair of brilliantly deranged performances that make this unlikely reboot of David Cronenberg’s ’80s cult classic about twin gynecologists not just viable, but riveting. Unlike so many of the film-to-TV adaptations that have popped up lately (see: Paramount+’s miserable Fatal Attraction), the new Dead Ringers also has a reason to exist, thanks to executive producer and showrunner Alice Birch’s thoughtfully deployed gender swap. In her unfortunately timely, often terrifying update, fertility and technology converge at a perilous crossroads, where pregnant bodies become a battleground for the rich and shameless.
The only thing TV needs less than another comedy about aimless 20-somethings is another superhero show—yet somehow Extraordinary, which combines the two genres, is one of the freshest new titles of 2023. Set in an alternate-universe London where young people acquire a superpower (possibilities range from flight to the ability to “summon sea creatures”) sometime around their 18th birthday, the series follows Jen (Máiréad Tyers), a flailing 25-year-old who has yet to receive her special enhancement. Creator Emma Moran savvily steers this premise away from inspirationalism, seamlessly integrating fantastical elements into a world whose resemblance to our own extends to the petty roommate drama, job woes, and casual raunch that characterize post-collegiate city life. You’ll laugh. You’ll cringe. You might even relate.
The Other Two (Max)
At once hilariously anarchic and deeply perceptive about the contemporary entertainment industry, The Other Two debuted as a Comedy Central show about two adult siblings (Heléne Yorke’s Brooke and Drew Tarver’s Cary) who try to ride the coattails of their little brother (Case Walker), a teen pop star in the Justin Bieber mold. Thanks to a climate of Hollywood flux whose absurdity creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider surely appreciate, it’s now an HBO Max—wait, sorry, just Max—original that just ended its superlative third season. Having already taken on the music hype machine and, in Season 2, followed the kids’ mom (Molly Shannon) as she builds a daytime-TV empire, the show shifted focus to Cary’s nascent acting career—as he navigates (what else?) a streaming landscape where titles drop one day and drop off the radar the next. With a well-developed supporting cast that includes comedy greats like Ken Marino and Wanda Sykes and the high-concept humor of, for instance, an interminable, multi-night Broadway play called 8 Gay Men With AIDS, The Other Two has never been sharper. Here’s hoping it survives Warner Bros. Discovery’s Zaslav-era bloodbath to return for Season 4.
Party Down (Starz)
Before there was The Other Two, we had Party Down—another uproarious comedy about showbiz underdogs featuring the slapstick stylings of Ken Marino. In episodes unfolding entirely at events serviced by L.A.’s Party Down Catering, a business staffed mostly by washed-up or wannabe Hollywood actors, the late-aughts series launched cast members like Adam Scott and Jane Lynch to genuine stardom. A cult favorite, the show got canceled long before the concept ran out of juice and built up a following on streaming. So it was a real pleasure to see this crew of cater-waiters reassemble, over a decade later, for a third season in gig-work purgatory. From a post-pandemic house party to a right-wing conference, the settings got a 2023 update and the cast some more diverse faces, but the hilarity was vintage Party Down. Fingers crossed that we’ll get at least one more season, and that Lizzy Caplan—a key cast member who was absent from this one until its very last scene due to a scheduling conflict—will be back in a pink bowtie.
Poker Face (Peacock)
Natasha Lyonne plays a shaggy private eye with the uncanny ability to detect lies, in a ’70s-style case-of-the-week procedural in the “howcatchem” style of Columbo, created by Knives Out filmmaker Rian Johnson. Who could possibly resist that pitch? More impressive is that Poker Face managed to overdeliver on a tantalizing premise. Over the course of the first season, Lyonne’s Charlie Cale stumbled into murders set everywhere from metal-band tour buses to retirement communities harboring hippie radicals—and encountered eccentric personalities played by guest stars including Hong Chau, Chloë Sevigny, Nick Nolte, and too many other boldface names to list here. But the scripts really got daring in its final few episodes, which took a dark turn and set up a second season that promises to probe the sadness behind Charlie’s endearing persona.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (Netflix)
I could never fully hop on the Bridgerton train; I got frustrated midway through Season 1 and then missed Regé-Jean Page too much to enjoy Season 2. So I was thrilled that Queen Charlotte—a prequel loosely based on the real marriage of Britain’s George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz—finally got me there, thanks to a dynamic female lead conceived by Shonda Rhimes and played, as a young bride, by magnetic newcomer India Amarteifio. Weighty themes, from mental illness to racism, do surface. Thankfully, infusing such topics into frothy, fast-paced dramas without descending into glibness is (usually) Rhimes’ superpower. Not since the first few seasons of Scandal has she achieved such an ideal mix of substance and fun.
Rain Dogs (HBO)
My favorite new show of the year—and it’s not even close—is this British dramedy from author turned creator Cash Carraway that follows the misadventures of two broken people and the little girl they both love. The spectacularly spiky Daisy May Cooper (also excellent in this year’s Hulu comedy thriller Am I Being Unreasonable?) stars as a working-class writer trying to eke out a living as a peep show dancer and keep a roof over the head of her darling 10-year-old daughter (Fleur Tashjian), all while dodging the overtures of her posh, recently incarcerated loose canon of a best friend (Jack Farthing). The humor is bleak but honest, the gloriously obscene dialogue a masterclass in painful intimacy, the characters wrought in fine psychological detail, and the performances off-the-charts authentic. Grounded, human stories are in increasingly short supply on TV, but even if they weren’t, Rain Dogs would feel like something rare and special.
Have you heard of this show about a terrible family battling for control of the elderly patriarch’s media empire? People seem to like it! But seriously, at this point, most fans of Jesse Armstrong’s odyssey into the dark heart of capitalism have read approximately as many words about it as there are in a copy of War and Peace; I have written something like 20,000 of them on this year’s final season alone. There’s no need to keep pronouncing that Succession will be remembered as one of the defining artworks of the current decade—though that’s certainly true. All that’s left to say, I think, is that the final season proved that it was never just a show about watching bad people do evil things. Those who’ve avoided it for that reason might be surprised at how much it has to say about American democracy in the age of billionaires. Even if you don’t become a fan, you’ll gain something new to talk about at dinner parties. Or in therapy.
Yes, sure, the recent Season 2 finale was divisive. And Yellowjackets has always been a tad messier, plot-wise but also in terms of all the blood that gets spilled, than your typical critically acclaimed prestige drama. Still, Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson’s horror-soaked thriller about a ’90s high school soccer team fighting to survive after their plane crashes in the wilderness—and about the haunted people the women who make it out alive grow up to be—remains as addictive as ever. The second season toggled between a tense reunion at adult Lottie’s (Courtney Eaton) “retreat,” with erstwhile teen stars Lauren Ambrose and Elijah Wood joining the present-day cast, and chilling flashbacks to a winter of snowy starvation. Already renewed for Season 3, the show may be at risk of going off the rails. For now, it’s still one hell of a ride.
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