|Doc goes behind-the-scenes into the making of Little BirdThe Hollywood strikes will slow the supply of new shows, but that will leave you time to catch up on must-watch shows like “Jury Duty,” “Queen Charlotte” and “Succession.”|
|(Toronto Star) July 29, 2023 — There’s good news and bad news for television fans.|
First the bad: new TV shows and new episodes of existing ones are going to be hard to come by if the strike by Hollywood writers and actors drags on. The good news: there’s already so much product out there it’s unlikely you’ll run out of things to watch any time soon.
With that in mind, here are the 10 shows I consider the best of 2023 so far, in alphabetical order. You can also check out Peter Howell’s list of the 10 best movies of 2023 so far, our critics’ list of the best albums and the 14 books Star reviewers consider must-reads.
Steven Yeun as Danny in “Beef.” ANDREW COOPER/NETFLIX Beef. Steven Yeun as Danny in episode 102 of Beef. Cr. Andrew Cooper/Netflix © 2023
A road rage incident in Southern California escalates into a tit-for-tat revenge battle between Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) and Amy Lau (Ali Wong) after he almost backs into her in a home improvement store parking lot. What keeps Lee Sung Jin’s dark comedy grounded, even as Danny and Amy’s actions become increasingly preposterous, is Yeun and Wong’s masterful portrayal of two deeply unhappy people who, despite their differences — she’s a wealthy business owner, he’s a struggling contractor — share a stifling sense of inadequacy. The anger they feel makes them feel seen for who they really are. Streams on Netflix
Finlay Wojtak-Hissong as Lester in “Essex County.” PETER H. STRANKS
This drama from Jeff Lemire, based on his graphic novel trilogy of the same name, is a reminder that stillness and silence can be as compelling as action and pages of dialogue. The main character is Lester (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), an 11-year-old boy forced to move in with his farmer uncle, Ken (Brian J. Smith), after his mother dies of cancer. Lester and Ken’s struggles parallel those of Lou (Stephen McHattie), a cantankerous senior who’s slipping into dementia, and his niece Anne (Molly Parker), who’s contending with the breakdown of her marriage. We give short shrift to our own cultural output in this country, but this is a beautifully made series that highlights the complexity of ordinary lives. Streams on CBC Gem
AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS THIRD PARTY PHOTO SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON FACTS DEPICTED IN IMAGE; MUST BE USED WITHIN 14 DAYS FROM TRANSMISSION; NO ARCHIVING; NO LICENSING; MANDATORY CREDIT This image released by Amazon Freevee shows Ronald Gladden, left, and James Marsden in a scene from the series “Jury Duty.” (Amazon Freevee via AP)
This comedy has no business being as entertaining as it is. The premise — a documentary about a fake jury trial in which all but one of the jurors is an actor — could have gone horribly wrong. But creators Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky lucked out when they chose Ronald Gladden as their dupe. The kindness and decency displayed by the solar panel contractor as he reacts to the absurdities around him is the real deal; it elevates the series from mere cringe comedy to a heartwarming vote of confidence in humanity. And it brought James Marsden, who plays a delightfully narcissistic version of himself, his first Emmy nomination. Streams on Prime Video
Ellyn Jade as Patti Little Bird with Charlotte Cutler and Gideon Starr as Dora and Niizh in “Little Bird.”
Finally, a mainstream TV drama confronts head on Canada’s shameful history of separating Indigenous children from their families as part of the “Sixties Scoop.” This series created by Jennifer Podemski and Hannah Moscovitch starts with the gut punch of three children being ripped from their parents on a reserve in Saskatchewan then follows Bezhig Little Bird, a.k.a. Esther Rosenblum (Darla Contois), now part of a Jewish family in Montreal, as she tries to reconnect with siblings she hasn’t seen since she was five and an unexplored part of her identity. Streams on Crave
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
Shonda Rhimes shifted from executive producer to creator for this prequel series that delivers the things that period drama “Bridgerton” is known for — steamy sex scenes, lavish costumes and sets, anachronistic music — but with a more substantial love story at its core. When Charlotte (India Amarteifio), who is Black, reluctantly weds King George III (Corey Mylchreest), who is white, it enables other people who look like her to join the aristocracy, most notably Lady Danbury (standout Arsema Thomas), addressing race in a way that “Bridgerton” has generally evaded. But the beating heart of the series is the long-lasting love between Charlotte and her mentally ill husband. Streams on Netflix
Rebecca Ferguson as Juliette Nicols in “Silo.” APPLE TV PLUS
Canadian writer and producer Graham Yost added to his already considerable laurels (“Justified,” “The Americans”) by creating this sci-fi series based on the Hugh Howey novellas. It’s set in a massive 144-storey underground bunker where some 10,000 souls are protected from the apparent dangers of the postapocalyptic outdoors. When mechanic turned sheriff Juliette Nichols (Rebecca Ferguson of “Mission: Impossible”) investigates the suspicious death of her lover she uncovers a deadly conspiracy, one aimed at enforcing a tightly controlled narrative of reality. Questions and bodies pile up, as does the suspense. Streams on Apple TV Plus
Brian Cox as Logan Roy in Season 4 of “Succession.” MACALL B. POLAY/HBO
When the likely strike-delayed Emmy Awards finally air, it’s also likely this series will dominate the drama categories. Jesse Armstrong’s show about a very rich, very dysfunctional family lived up to the hype of its final season, including delivering one of the finest episodes of TV ever while killing off a key character. In the end, media mogul Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) lack of faith in his children proved prescient. Maybe four cutthroat seasons of jockeying for power did amount, as son Roman (Kieran Culkin) said, to “f-king nothing,” but people are still talking about “Succession” two months after it went off the air and will continue to do so for years. Streams on Crave
Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto in “The Bear.” CHUCK HODES/FX THE BEAR — “Omelette” — Season 2, Episode 9 (Airs Thursday, June 22nd) Pictured: Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto. CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.
Sophomore seasons can be a curse for particularly buzzy shows, but this comedy-drama’s second instalment is just as gripping as its first. The tension this time around comes not from running a restaurant but building a new one from the ground up. Chicago chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) enlists his sister, his staff and his uncle’s money to open a fine dining establishment where his late brother’s sandwich shop once stood. But keeping the project on time and on budget seems impossible, let alone creating a menu that will bring head chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) a Michelin star. This Christopher Storer creation is as delicious as the food the camera so lovingly captures. Streams on Disney Plus
AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS THIRD PARTY PHOTO SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON FACTS DEPICTED IN IMAGE; MUST BE USED WITHIN 14 DAYS FROM TRANSMISSION; NO ARCHIVING; NO LICENSING; MANDATORY CREDIT This image released by Netflix shows Keri Russell as Ambassador Kate Wyler in a scene from “The Diplomat.” (Netflix via AP)
Keri Russell (“The Americans”) makes a welcome return to the small screen as a U.S. diplomat posted in the U.K. just as an explosion aboard a British aircraft carrier threatens to nudge the world toward war. When Kate Wyler isn’t managing presidents, prime ministers and other political types she’s trying to rein in her husband, Hal (Rufus Sewell), a legendary ex-ambassador with a tendency to go rogue. A show about a diplomat (created by “Homeland” and “West Wing” vet Debora Cahn) is necessarily a talky one, but the snappy dialogue doesn’t slow things down or make the show any less compelling. Streams on Netflix
The Last of Us
Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller in “The Last of Us.” LIANE HENTSCHER/HBO
If “Succession” hadn’t had such a stunning final season, this postapocalyptic series might have been a shoo-in for Best Drama. Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann made a deeply affecting adaptation of Druckmann’s video game, one in which the dangers of a world full of fungus-infested zombies heighten the bonds between survivors. The relationship between Joel and Ellie — played by “Game of Thrones” vets Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey — is the series’ most rewarding, as they traverse the U.S. in search of a cure, but other pairings also stir the emotions. Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett (gay couple Bill and Frank), and Toronto’s Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard (brothers Henry and Sam), are all deservedly up for guest acting Emmys. Streams on Crave
Honourable mentions: Season 2 of “Yellowjackets,” Season 3 of “Ted Lasso,” Season 3 of “Happy Valley,” “Mrs. Davis,” “A Small Light”
Editor’s note — Aug. 1, 2023. This story has been revised to provide the correct last name of Ali Wong, the actress playing Amy Lau in the show Beef.
By Debra Yeo Toronto Star
Debra Yeo is a deputy editor and a contributor to the Star’s Culture section. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @realityeo.
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