Ross Anderson, life editor
Silo, Drops of God and Hijack
As I wrote early this year in our pages, Apple TV+ is probably the most under-appreciated streaming service available, with a very high batting average for its output. Bad Sisters was far funnier than I expected, The Super Models was just fantastic, and Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker is almost as long as its title, but is also the best sports documentary I’ve seen in years. But the three best shows I watched though it were Silo, Drops of God and Hijack. Silo is a dystopian thriller, where the world’s population lives in an underground silo, with many questions about how they got there, few answers and a cracker of an ending; Drops of God sees the estranged daughter of a wine-mogul and his pupil competing for his enormous inheritance; and Hijack is a dumb, fun Dad-thriller, high on drama, tension and bingeing-pleasure.
Amber Duke, Washington editor
The Last of Us
The Last of Us was my top show this year because usually I just watch Sopranos re-runs, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to see another video game adaptation fail miserably. Unfortunately — or fortunately — for me, the first season hit all of the horror, tension and character building that makes the game series so enticing and hard to put down. Pedro Pascal was a bit overexposed in 2023 but his emotionally walled-off portrayal of Joel showed his acting range and proved why he’s been getting so much attention lately. The big test will be if the second season of the show can outdo the video game sequel, which most players agree was a bit of a disappointment. Either way, it was nice to have another Sunday night show to look forward to.
Charles Lipson, contributing editor
The best TV, by far, is South Park. Though it may resemble a children’s cartoon show, it features that rarest of creatures: comedy that lampoons the verities of leftist ideology. How could Harry and Meghan possibly respond to the devastating humor of South Park‘s “World-Wide Privacy Tour?” What could the Disney Company and Lucasfilm do besides sputter and threaten lawsuits when South Park gave them the treatment in “Joining the Panderverse?” “Pander” is the right word for what those companies have done to destroy iconic, once-profitable franchises. South Park captures the zeitgeist by transforming the cartoon show’s little white stars into black, adult women.
Ben Brantley, former New York Times theater critic
The Korean writer and director Lee Sung-jin’s ten-episode series, which traces the ever-expanding fallout of a road rage incident, is one of those show that keeps you asking, “They’re not really going to go there, are they?” But, oh yes, Beef keeps progressing further and further out on a limb and then lets its characters, and its plot, spiral into free fall. As risky as it might sound, the approach is fiendishly appropriate to a work about how anger divides and multiplies, transforming the seemingly trivial into rabid obsession, and id turns ego inside out. Starring Ali Wong (best known as a stand-up comic) and Steven Yeun (an Oscar nominee for Minari) as characters of Asian descent at very different levels of American-style success, Beef manages to explore all sorts of varieties of classism, racism, greed and ambition, and the ways in which such elements combine and combust, pushing resentment into homicidal hostility. It is as painful and exhilarating a watch as television offered this year. As monomaniacal adversaries, Wong and Yeun blur emotional boundaries until unadulterated hate blossoms into something obscenely like love. The seriously damaged state in which they end up is sick, terrifying and all too convincing, a funhouse mirror for a divided nation that has never been angrier.
Jacob Heilbrunn, contributing editor
A Spy Among Friends
The Cambridge 5 may have betrayed their country, but they remain a splendid cultural export. The latest offering is Alexander Cary’s nifty television drama A Spy Among Friends, which features a riveting portrayal of Kim Philby.
Alexander Larman, books editor
Succession concluded with a bang, although I cannot be the only person who thought that its stunning third episode — perhaps the best portrayal of sudden grief I’ve ever seen on television, or anywhere else for that matter — overshadowed the remainder of the series. And Jeremy Strong’s intelligent, soulful performance as Kendall, the heir apparent who finds the rug pulled under his feet at the last, will live on for a very long time in my memory. Otherwise, it’s been an oddly disappointing year, with everything from Sex Education to Ted Lasso falling at the final hurdles, and — of course — the plethora of Marvel and Star Wars series now becoming increasingly unruly and unmanageable.
Matt McDonald, managing editor
The two television episodes that affected me the most this year were about death. I’m sure someone else will write about Succession here, so I’ll keep my comments on the third episode of the final season brief: when you watch someone die of a heart attack, you experience time seeming to slow down. The gear change that the usually fast-paced, fast-cutting show pulled off by showing that happen in real-time is powerful; it lingers.Elsewhere in British-made shows for American audiences, the final season of Sex Education put Maeve Wiley through her paces. A sex-positive, all-inclusive, vocally progressive program set in a sixth-form college might not be the kind of thing readers of The Spectator are usually prepared to pay heed to — but Wiley, as played by Emma Mackey, is the show’s emotional core, and her performance in a funeral episode that lays bare the class differences between her character’s family and her peers offers gut-punch after tragic gut-punch. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong — short of actually dropping the coffin. Binge the series like I did and you’ll be shedding tears by its climax.
Chadwick Moore, contributing editor
Jury Duty and Down For Love
Two of 2023’s most enjoyable television shows offer a marked departure from an entertainment culture dominated by caustic egos and grasping influencers — and a rejection of TV writing that too often defaults to snark, empty banter and complacent self-absorption.
Amazon Studios’ thrice-Emmy nominated Jury Duty — a comedic reality show that details the inner workings of an American jury — follows Juror #6, Ronald Gladden, who is unaware everything unfolding around him is an elaborate hoax and all his fellow jurors are hired actors. While laugh-out-loud funny, it’s Gladden’s unusually pure-hearted nature, his complete lack of sophistication and self-consciousness, that becomes the show’s driving, and endearing, force. You leave not only wishing there were more Ronald Gladdens in the world, but with a new appreciation for just how much talent it takes to pull off a good TV show, or just a great prank.
Similarly in the theme of innocence, there’s Netflix’s Down for Love, a five-part reality show that follows several New Zealanders with Down syndrome as they navigate dating and relationships. The show — which ends too abruptly with no conclusion (and, unfortunately, features one creepy sex therapy scene) — is a lesser but still heartwarming cousin to 2019’s Love on the Spectrum, a dating show following Australians with autism. An American counterpart, Love on the Spectrum US was released in 2022 and, like Down for Love, both became instant audience favorites.
Critics might find such shows schmaltzy and pathetically optimistic. They are, delightfully so.
Teresa Mull, assistant editor
My pick for favorite television this year is an old show I’ve only recently discovered. Newhart was a hit before I was born, and watching the show now is a therapeutic escape to a simpler time (read: pre-smartphones) I saw the tail-end of. Star Bob Newhart (who confusingly stars as Dick Loudon in the show) is still with us, aged ninety-four. I’d like him to know that his sarcastic humor, juxtaposed with Tom Poston’s awe-shucks simpleness, continues to make even this fast-forward world as quaint and pleasant as the Stratford Inn was forty years ago.