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Under the Radar’s Top 40 TV Shows of 2023

Jan 29, 2024
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Last year was a challenging one for the entertainment industry with the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild strikes. While this double blow—albeit for good causes—had detrimental snowball effects on the industry, there was still a solid grip of high quality material that made it to the not-so-small screen airwaves and streamers. Award-winning series like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Barry took their last bows, and we’re still waiting for a trifecta from Vince Gilligan to round out Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, but there was plenty to keep viewers glued to the tube. From superheroes to science fiction, political intrigue to teenage hijinks and dramatized jury service to historical dramas, we continue to be spoiled for choice. It was a battle for Under the Radar’s top television shows of 2023, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to 40 solid watches.

1.

The Last of Us (Season 1)

HBO

Ten years have passed since video game developers Naughty Dog did the impossible by growing connective tissue within the consumer confines of a category like video games. With our introduction to Ellie, Joel, and the post-apocalyptic world behind The Last of Us, gamers (and game-makers) saw how a devotion to excellence and pursuit of meaning could imbue an oft-overlooked category when it comes to appreciating artistry.

This past year, HBO achieved the same “impossibility” with their decision to tap Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) to helm a game-to-TV adaptation of The Last of Us. For years, video game-as-source material was seen as escapist at best and desperate at worst—an industry unable to generate new ideas of its own. With The Last of Us, however, HBO showed us that excellence is applicable anywhere and appreciable everywhere.

With a gripping story of a challenged humanity challenged to form community for its healthiest expression, The Last of Us uses familiar end-of-the-world tropes and familiar viral fears to not only unsettle the viewer but to serve up subversive parables for our own weary world. And from its masterful soundtrack to its stunning cinematography to its surprising buoyancy, The Last of Us is a heartening work on every level. By Matt Conner

Yes, it’s based on a video game. Yes, there are times when you can almost see the pixels (the breakout from underground being one of the main culprits). But in an era where watercooler shows are an endangered species, The Last of Us became a conversation piece because of the wonderful relationship between the two main characters, Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey) as they cross the country after an infection caused by cordyceps (a parasitic fungus) decimates the population and leaves others as zombie-like beings.

Creators Neil Druckmann (who directed the game and wrote the Uncharted series) and Craig Mazin (the also-astonishing Chernobyl) strike an exquisite balance between action set pieces and thoughtful (but always tense) pauses for character and worldbuilding. They even take a sideroad for a poignant episode with Nick Offerman as a prepper perfectly ready for this new world, and his partner, played by Murray Bartlett.

Pascal became a breakout star, with a deep and deeply moving portrayal of what is essentially a post-apocalyptic cowboy. Ramsey followed up Game of Thrones with a masterfully layered performance. But it’s the bond between them and the increasing risks they take for one another that made the show an absolute must-watch. By James Scott

2.

Succession (Season 4)

HBO

Endings are tricky. Look at what happened to the final series of Game of Thrones—an ending deemed so woeful that many fans felt it had ruined the entire experience. Thankfully, as the curtain fell on the Roy family saga, Season 4 of Succession delivered its jaw-dropping toxic denouement to perfection. Season 4 dialed up the backstabbing vitriol to operatic levels, offering a final act that managed to be as unhinged as you might expect but also unexpectedly poignant.

Brian Cox’s Logan Roy, the Machiavellian Murdoch/Trump-style patriarch, continued to pull the strings of his dysfunctional brood. The Roy siblings Kendall, Shiv, and Roman (and occasionally Connor)—remain locked in a perpetual dance of one-upmanship, their every utterance dripping with venomous wit and simmering resentment. The stakes climbed even higher with the introduction of Alexander Skarsgård’s dead-eyed Lukas Matsson, a tech bro and disrupter looking to throw a large spanner into the Royco ecosystem.

The show’s signature blend of humor and pathos scaled new heights, with moments of laugh-out-loud absurdity, such as the siblings physically fighting each other like petulant children, punctuating the tragedy simmering beneath the surface. The performances are universally excellent, showcasing the cast’s ability to navigate the delicate balance between ruthlessness and vulnerability. By Andy Von Pip

Read our review of Succession (Season Four).

3.

Doctor Who (60th Anniversary Specials and Christmas Special)

BBC/Disney+

Christmas arrived early for Whovians as the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials delivered three new episodes, taking a trip down memory lane while ushering in a brand new era.

David Tennant’s triumphant return as the hyperactive Fourteenth Doctor has the feel of slipping into a favorite pair of slippers. Alongside Catherine Tate’s feisty and often poignant portrayal of Donna Noble, their obvious affection for each other and razor-sharp wit serves as a reminder of just why both actors remain firm fan favorites.

The Star Beast, an adaptation of a 1980s classic Doctor Who comic strip, unveils the new TARDIS interior and features the deceptively cute pint size villain Beep the Meep. It’s followed by the emotionally charged Wild Blue Yonder, providing a satisfying, albeit bittersweet, closure to Donna’s story. However, The Giggle stands out as the best of the bunch, with Neil Patrick Harris relishing his role as the Toymaker, chewing up the scenery and delivering a deliciously deranged performance in an episode laced with Russell T Davies’ signature, albeit not always subtle, social commentary. It also concludes with an unusual regeneration, or to give it the correct scientific term, “bigeneration,” with the Doctor splitting into two, and both incarnations appearing together.

Real festive magic unfolds in the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Church on Ruby Road, with Ncuti Gatwa oozing luminous charisma as he effortlessly glides into his first full episode as the Fifteenth Doctor. Joined by the sparkly effervescent Millie Gibson as his new companion, Ruby Sunday, the combination of Gatwa’s playful energy and Gibson’s infectious charm creates a genuine chemistry between the duo, heralding an exciting new era that’s brimming with real potential.

The story begins long ago on a cold, snowy Christmas Eve, as a baby is abandoned on the steps of a church. The plot then involves a light-hearted caper through Christmas markets and goblin-infested alleyways, a ramshackle galleon-style sailing ship with wings, and features a baby-eating goblin overlord who bears a striking resemblance to a certain Mr. Trump. As one might expect, Doctor Who has never been afraid to take high camp to new levels and this time around even features a song and dance number—“The Goblin Song”—but it’s Gibson’s performance as Ruby that really anchors the story and gives it its heart as we tumble headlong into the Doctor’s fantastical world and discover the truth about her childhood.

Of course, no good Whovian tale is complete without a touch of mystery. Enter Anita Dobson’s enigmatic Mrs. Flood, whose knowing smile and endless supply of tea raise intriguing questions about her true identity. Is she a Time Lord in disguise? A cunning villain waiting to pounce? Only time will tell, but The Doctor is back, with a new companion and a future ripe with exciting possibilities. The TARDIS, it seems, is in excellent hands. By Andy Von Pip

4.

The Bear (Season 2)

Hulu

The Bear took a sharp turn in its second season and it paid off. The first season pivoted around Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), the irresistible “yes chef” who came back to salvage his family crumbling sandwich shop. But The Bear is an ensemble show with colorful characters and quirky personalities. These characters we got so attached to each get their moment in the spotlight. None shines as bright as Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) who stole all the scenes she showed up in and now she doesn’t have to steal them because they’re all hers. Similarly, the hugely appealing Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), firebrand Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), loveable Marcus (Lionel Boyce) and steady Natalie (Abby Elliott) continue to thrive in the chaos. Team The Bear should clear off some more shelf space for their future awards to go alongside the grip they already have received. By Lily Moayeri

Read our review of The Bear (Season Two).

5.

Beef

Netflix

“Have you seen Beef?” was the most heard line spring of 2023. The 10-episode limited series dramedy took road rage to a whole other level. The early scene of the series was relatable to anyone who has had a cuss-out session in a parking lot—even if the only person who heard it was themself. There is no end to the ongoing rage Amy (Ali Wong, Paper Girls) and Danny (Steven Yeun, Walking Dead) have against each other, or the undeniable chemistry. It’s a painful portrait of vengeance and viciousness that is an ugly but unavoidable aspect of human nature. But the characters’ layered lives and relationships with the closest people in their lives and their social and economic circumstances play strongly into the ongoing revenge game they refuse to stop playing. Beef is the most satisfactory binge. Creator Lee Sung Jin originally planned for three seasons and it is rumored that Beef might return for a second season. Beef swept the Emmys, Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Television Awards and if Jin has this level of engaging material for two more seasons, let’s bring it on Netflix. By Lily Moayeri

6.

Poker Face (Season 1)

Peacock

Natasha Lyonne brushes everything with a touch of wry humor. In this Rian Johnson-created episodic series, she plays Charlie, whose superpowers is being able t tell when people are lying. This ability causes a lot of problems for Charlie as she goes head-to-head with a formidable cast of characters played by the likes of Judith Light, Simon Helberg, Ellen Barkin, Tim Meadows, Nick Nolte, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stephanie Hsu, Clea DuVall, and Rhea Perlman, to name just a few. It’s super-fun to see these recognizable faces fall into unlikely characters who bat and forth with Charlie, who remains the same two-packs-a-day gravelly-voiced adaptable and winning person she is. There’s no end to the possibilities for Poker Face. By Lily Moayeri

Read our interview with Poker Face music supervisor Thomas Golubić.

7.

Only Murders in the Building (Season 3)

Hulu

Despite the fact that it’s about, well, murder, there’s an underlying sweetness to Only Murders in the Building. A lot of this comes from the connection of real-life friends Steve Martin and Martin Short, but, somehow, Selena Gomez blends seamlessly to make the duo a trio. They’re initially united by their love of a true crime podcast, and then by producing one of their own, but what really keeps them together is their deepening friendship. There’s an easiness to the show, a clear vision of what it is, and it never seems desperate for laughs—though it delivers plenty.

The third season revolves around the death of an obnoxious actor, and while it lacks some of the first two seasons’ charms, perhaps due to the trio losing their underdog status, Only Murders in the Building is still one of TV’s most satisfying shows. By James Scott

8.

The Diplomat (Season 1)

Netflix

Keri Russell had us at Felicity, but she’s done so well playing politically complicated characters, first in The Americans, and now as The Diplomat. As the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., Russell’s Kate Wyler is annoyed at being picked for a cushy gig when managing high-intensity and fraught situations is what she thrives on. Turns out the gig is not as easy as she thought. It’s possible Iran is behind an attack on a British aircraft carrier, then Kate’s husband Hal (Rufus Sewll) is drugged and kidnapped. When more information is revealed, Kate’s future as a potential vice president is precarious. Russell handles this role with confidence and with more than a touch of aggression, which adds to the already fearsome character. Even though their marriage is strictly for optics, her dynamic with Sewell is fluid and so believable, you can’t help but root them to stay together. Celia Imrie (Better Things) does a marvelous job as the former campaign manager for the Conservative Party and with the casting of Allison Janey for The Diplomat season two, things can only get spicier. By Lily Moayeri

9.

Shrinking (Season 1)

Apple TV+

The critically-acclaimed and awards favorite, Shrinking comes with pedigree: Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein of Ted Lasso are its award-winning creators along with Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominee Jason Segel. Segel, who plays the central protagonist, Jimmy, is one of many television veterans on Shrinking. Also on board are Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Ted McGinley (Married With Children), Christa Miller (The Drew Carey Show), among others. Its marquee star power is Harrison Ford, Jimmy’s aging and crochety mentor who has a strong hold on his comedy chops.

Jimmy is a grieving therapist who is not dealing well with the death of his wife. More in need of counseling than any of his patients, he gives careless advice and turns to Paul for help. It’s Liz (Miller), however, who is his real savior. It’s a bleak backdrop but the way it is dealt with on Shrinking is with razor-sharp humor delivered effortlessly, most noticeably by its secondary characters. Sparkling gems come from Emmy-nominee Jessica Williams as fellow therapist Gaby and from Urie, Jimmy’s best friend Brian, who is also his lawyer. The real heartbeat of Shrinking is Jimmy’s teenage daughter Alice played with natural nuance by Lukita Maxwell. The dynamic between her and Ford is warm, funny and delightful. All the feelgood that Ted Lasso gradually lost over three seasons, Shrinking has in spades. By Lily Moayeri

10.

Barry (Season 4)

HBO

What started off as a dark comedy about the titular hitman in Hollywood aspiring to be an actor by day four seasons ago, is still quite funny. But now, that’s less thanks to its former comedian star, Bill Hayder, and more due to the ensemble. In these final episodes, Henry Winkler as his acting coach Gene Cousineau turns the trauma of teaching a hitman into a one man show audition that is as hilarious as it is narcissistic. Stephen Root as Barry’s mentor-turned-nemesis Monroe Fuches has some sidesplitting moments as he morphs into a scenery-gobbling prison kingpin.

Barry’s moments of existential dread make for scenes that will be remembered as one of the best of this year. Specifically, Barry’s wife Sally is stalked by a masked intruder who remains just outside her field of vision, but is in full view for the audience, much to their increasing horror, thanks to Hader’s surprising mastery of suspense. During more reflective moments, Hader distinctively shoots key characters from a vast distance in the desert, or pans seamlessly from one desert scene to a fantasy of him and Sally dancing at a wedding reception when they are well into their sunset years. The outcome is far less idyllic for Barry the character, but, thanks to its bold artistry, this concluding season couldn’t be more perfect for viewers. By Kyle Mullin

Read our review of Barry (Season Three).

11

Gen V (Season 1)

Amazon Prime Video

12

Black Mirror (Season 6)

Netflix

13

Somebody Somewhere (Season 2)

HBO

14

Ted Lasso (Season 3)

Apple TV+

15

Sex Education (Season 4)

Netflix

16

Cunk on Earth (Season 1)

Netflix

17

Star Trek: Picard (Season 3)

Paramount+

18

Jury Duty

FreeVee

19

Invincible (Season 2)

Amazon Prime Video

20

The Crown (Season 6)

Netflix

21

Good Omens (Season 2)

Amazon Prime Video

22

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 5)

Amazon Prime Video

23

I Think You Should Leave (Season 3)

Netflix

24

Starstruck (Season 3)

BBC/MAX

25

My Adventures with Superman (Season 1)

Adult Swim

26

Hijack

Apple TV+

27

Silo (Season 1)

Apple TV+

28

Superman & Lois (Season 3)

CW

29

Blue Eye Samurai (Season 1)

Netflix

30

How to with John Wilson (Season 3)

HBO

31

Justified: City Primeval

FX

32

LEGO Masters (Season 4)

FOX

33

The Gilded Age (Season 2)

HBO

34

For All Mankind (Season 4)

Apple TV+

35

Telemarketers

HBO

36

Yellowjackets (Season 2)

Showtime

37

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off (Season 1)

Netflix

38

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Season 2)

Paramount+

39

Reservation Dogs (Season 3)

FX

40

Mrs. Davis

Peacock

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