A lot has happened in the past 12 months of television: acclaimed series came to a close; nostalgic hits like Frasier and Party Down were revived; labor strikes shut down Hollywood, leading to many shows being delayed or outright canceled; the 2023 Emmys got pushed back to January 2024; The Idol, uh, happened. But amid all the industry upheaval, there was also plenty of great television. Audiences were treated to a bit of everything this year: pitch-black satires, heartwarming dramedies, thought-provoking murder mysteries, a real-life Truman Show, and much more. Without further ado, these are The Ringer’s best shows of 2023.
It feels like Warrior always has been fighting with its back against the wall. The 19th-century martial arts Western, based on an eight-page treatment written by Bruce Lee in the 1970s and created by Jonathan Tropper, originally aired on Cinemax before the network scrapped all of its original programming. Thankfully, Warrior found a second life on Max, where the series expanded its audience and secured a third season. Warrior’s unlikely revival was worth celebrating in and of itself, but the show didn’t just rest on its ass-kicking laurels: In its third season, it’s never been better. As rival Tongs amass power in San Francisco’s Chinatown, local politicians and businessmen conspire to pit Chinese and Irish laborers against one another. Leading the charge against the city’s wealthy (and white) elite is seasoned martial artist Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), who continues to protect Chinatown with his fists, hatchets, and whatever else he can get his hands on. (It doesn’t hurt that Ah Sahm moves like Bruce Lee.) Exploring systemic racism and the Chinese immigrant experience with some of the most exhilarating action sequences on television, Warrior continues to pack a punch. Here’s hoping Warrior’s Season 4 renewal is a matter of when, not if, or I’m breaking out the nunchucks at Warner Bros. Discovery HQ.
The Netflix dramedy Beef, created by Lee Sung Jin, begins with an experience familiar to anyone with a driver’s license: a moment of road rage. As down-on-his-luck contractor Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) pulls out of his spot in a home improvement store parking lot, he almost hits an SUV; the driver, overwhelmed entrepreneur Amy Lau (Ali Wong), responds by flipping him off. Incensed, Danny pursues Amy through the streets of Los Angeles, where the two of them destroy property in an affluent neighborhood and go viral in the process. A trivial standoff devolving into chaos is Beef in a nutshell: a series that deftly examines what happens when people dissatisfied by the state of their lives channel that pain in another direction, warranted or otherwise. With career-best work from Yeun and Wong, whose despondent characters have far more in common than they’d ever care to admit, Beef is a compelling and relatable snapshot of existential malaise. If Lee’s up for another season of Beef, I’d happily go in for seconds.
8. Scavengers Reign
Quality science fiction often lives or dies on the strength of its world-building, which is good news for the Max animated series Scavengers Reign, whose breakout star isn’t a character, but rather a beguiling alien planet. Created by Joe Bennett and Charles Huettner, who expanded on their 2016 short film, Scavengers Reign follows the scattered survivors of the cargo ship Demeter, which has been marooned on the planet Vesta Minor during its journey to an outer-space colony. On Vesta—or as I’ve come to call it, Space Australia—the flora and fauna are breathtaking and horrifying in equal measure. (Imagine the animated stylings of Studio Ghibli as conceived by David Cronenberg.) In one moment, characters will be struck by the beauty of the otherworldly landscape surrounding them; in another, a nightmarish parasite will attach itself to someone’s heart in a twisted form of symbiosis. But whether I’m awed or terrified, the strongest endorsement I can give Scavengers Reign is that Vesta is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even in a year packed with impressive small-screen sci-fi, Scavengers Reign stands alone in its eerie, absorbing originality.
7. Jury Duty
Finally, a mockumentary that answers the question: “What would happen if you actually tried to Truman Show someone?” On Amazon Freevee’s hybrid reality-sitcom Jury Duty, affable everyman Ronald Gladden believes he’s participating in a documentary about the jury duty process. The twist: Everyone else in the courtroom, including James Marsden, who plays a fictionalized version of himself, is an actor. (Marsden’s participation not only helps keep Gladden off the scent, but also forces the jurors to be sequestered for weeks on account of his celebrity status.) The joy of Jury Duty, questionable ethics notwithstanding, isn’t just that it’s outrageously funny, but also that it restores some of your faith in humanity. At every turn, Gladden reacts to the bizarre circumstances around him with genuine empathy and patience. One juror is cast as an eccentric intended to weird out Gladden—instead of shunning him, Gladden invites him to watch A Bug’s Life in his hotel room. There’s never been a show quite like Jury Duty, but while I’d watch another season of this reality-bending concept in a heartbeat, the jury’s still out on whether the phenomenon can ever be repeated.
6. Poker Face
Rian Johnson is no stranger to quality television, having directed what many consider to be Breaking Bad’s greatest episode, if not one of the defining moments of the Peak TV era. But in his first stab at creating a series of his own, Johnson goes for something of a throwback: a case-of-the-week procedural in the “howcatchem” style of Columbo. In Peacock’s Poker Face, Natasha Lyonne plays Charlie Cale, a cocktail waitress at a Las Vegas casino who can always tell when someone is lying. But being a human lie detector isn’t so much a blessing as a curse: Once Charlie gets mixed up in the death of a casino boss’s failson, she hits the road and manages to get caught up in a local murder at every pit stop. Featuring an impressive collection of guest stars, including Adrien Brody, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hong Chau, Nick Nolte, Judith Light, and many more, Poker Face brings a unique flavor to every episodic mystery. As Peacock’s first true breakout series, there’s every hope that Poker Face will stick around for the long haul. And when I say I’ll inhale as many episodes of Poker Face as Johnson wants to make, Charlie can attest that I’m telling the truth.
5. A Murder at the End of the World
If Poker Face handles its murder mysteries in more traditional fashion, then the FX miniseries A Murder at the End of the World is akin to the genre’s latest software update. Created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij—best known for The OA, a true feat of WTF television—A Murder at the End of the World has a title with multiple meanings. For one, the series is set at what feels like the edge of the planet, as reclusive tech billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen) invites influential figures across several industries to a remote Icelandic hotel before the guests start dropping dead. But the series also alludes to the end-times, grappling with the looming threat of climate change, the dangers of artificial intelligence, and whether humanity’s wealthiest individuals are hastening our demise rather than trying to save us. At the center of this tangled web of intrigue is Darby Hart (Emma Corrin), a hacker and amateur sleuth who tracked down a serial killer in her adolescence and must once again put those skills to the test. Jumping between Darby’s first case and Ronson’s retreat, there’s plenty to savor throughout A Murder at the End of the World outside of its central whodunnit: shifty characters, gorgeous natural landscapes, and ominous, Kubrickian production design. While the answers that A Murder at the End of the World reaches in its conclusion are satisfying in their own right, it’s a testament to Marling and Batmanglij’s series that the journey is just as rewarding as the destination.
Four years since its launch, Apple TV+ has emerged as a sci-fi fanatic’s dream streaming service, responsible for everything from dystopian workplace thrillers (Severance) to alt-history dramas (For All Mankind) to big-budget interplanetary space operas (Foundation). The streamer’s next great sci-fi program hits another sweet spot: mystery-box storytelling. In Silo, based on Hugh Howey’s book series of the same name and adapted for television by Graham Yost, the last remnants of humanity live in a massive underground bunker—a place that protects its inhabitants from Earth’s toxic atmosphere. At least, that’s what the Orwellian powers that be want the populace to believe, as skeptical characters throughout the Silo start searching for answers. With a society not unlike the world of Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, where every level of the Silo functions like a caste system, Silo isn’t just an absorbing mystery: Its environment feels truly lived in, buoyed by some of television’s most astonishingly painstaking production design. Whether Silo can keep viewers invested in its many unanswered questions remains to be seen, but with Howey’s trilogy as the road map, the show is off to a highly encouraging start.
3. The Bear
When The Bear debuted in 2022, the FX series was lauded for effectively (and agonizingly) capturing the pressure-cooker environment of working in a fast-paced kitchen. (It also led to everyone and their grandmother saying “Yes, chef!” like they were trying to impress Ralph Fiennes in The Menu.) But if there was one knock against The Bear, it was that the show spent so much time in the chaotic headspace of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), robbing other cooks in the kitchen of a fleshed-out backstory. Thankfully, The Bear’s second season more than makes up for those early shortcomings. As Carmy goes about turning his late brother’s sandwich shop into a fine-dining establishment, Season 2’s best episodes spotlight the rest of the ensemble, including pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce), who travels to Copenhagen for an apprenticeship, and Carmy’s short-tempered play-cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who works front of house at an acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago. Throw in some A-list guest stars and the most anxiety-inducing Christmas reunion you’ll ever see, and The Bear’s second season was an absolute feast from start to finish. Bring on the third course.
2. Reservation Dogs
A mainstay on our year-end rankings since it arrived in 2021, FX’s Reservation Dogs went out on a high note in its third and final season. After a brief detour in Los Angeles at the start of the season, the titular Rez Dogs—Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-a-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Cheese (Lane Factor), and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis)—make their way back to rural Oklahoma. The teens, in turn, have arrived at something of a crossroads: whether to stay on their reservation, or continue exploring what awaits outside it. As audiences have come to expect from cocreator and showrunner Sterlin Harjo, Reservation Dogs carves out meaningful time for each protagonist on their respective journeys—one standout in particular being the episode in which Elora meets her estranged father, played by Ethan Hawke. But what elevated Reservation Dogs from a great show of its era to a genuine all-timer was how this coming-of-age story managed to celebrate the entire community along the way, culminating with a moving finale centered on a funeral for a beloved elder. Hilarious, poignant, and continually inventive, Reservation Dogs broke new ground when it premiered as the first show featuring all Indigenous writers and directors to go along with a largely Indigenous cast. The best way to honor this tremendous series is to make sure it won’t be the last of its kind.
Succession claimed the top spot in our midyear rankings, and with respect to every other outstanding show on this list, nothing else was going to take the throne. For its fourth and final season, Succession emptied the clip: By the third episode, the fearsome Logan Roy (Brian Cox) was dead, leaving his self-destructive failchildren to fight over control of the family’s media empire, lest Waystar Royco fall into the hands of Scandi mogul Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard). Along with a fraught presidential election for the soul of the nation that should come with a trigger warning, as well as the world’s most histrionic and passive-aggressive funeral proceedings, Succession was operating at the peak of its tragicomic powers. (It also didn’t hurt that Succession had a deep bench of elite performers to rely on throughout the series; if only there were enough Emmys to go around.) But whether you were hate-watching the exploits of the Roys or sympathizing with the reverberating effects of their familial abuse, Succession was a show made for this particular moment: a lacerating lampoon of the 1 percent, done with real verve. And just as The Sopranos and The Wire defined one era of HBO, Succession will go down as the best series of its time. If anyone disagrees, it’s best to ignore them: They’re not serious people.
Honorable mentions: Barry, Gen V, The Last of Us, Foundation, The Righteous Gemstones, Hijack, Dave, Cunk on Earth, I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson, The Other Two