|From “The Last of Us” to a new season of “The Bear,” to final seasons of “Succession” and “Reservation Dogs,” these are the shows that resonated with our critic.
|The year in television began with a man and a teenage girl on a fraught journey across a postapocalyptic America, continued with the conclusion to a soul-destroying battle to control a media empire and then saw a savoury show about the restaurant business come roaring back to screens.
There seems to be a broad consensus that “The Last of Us,” the final season of “Succession” and the second season of “The Bear” were among the very best TV series of 2023. Beyond that? With the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes making barely a dent in the overwhelming number of scripted shows, it was impossible for even the most diligent TV critic to see everything, let alone reach agreement on the best of the lot. And yet, tis the season of top 10 lists, so here’s mine.
These aren’t necessarily perfect shows — is there even such a thing? — but they’re the ones that most resonated with me when I reflected back on what I watched this year. They are listed in chronological order. And be warned, there are some spoilers ahead.
The Last of Us
If I had to choose my favourite of everything I saw in 2023, this drama about what remains of the world after a fungal infection has either zombified or killed much of the population would be it. It is an achingly, transcendently human show about the power of love in the face of chaos and carnage. The bonds between characters like lovers Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett); brothers Henry (Toronto’s Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard); and, especially, main characters Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) elevated it beyond a mere zombie action adventure, although that part of it was satisfying too. Streaming on Crave
I spent April and May riveted to the final season of this drama about the fight for control of a Murdoch-like media conglomerate among the damaged children of ruthless boss Logan Roy (Brian Cox). Logan, sons Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck), and daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) were all loathsome, which made them more rather than less fascinating to watch. This fourth season of “Succession” also gave us one of the best episodes of television of all time in its third episode, in which Logan died ingloriously in the washroom of his private plane. The series finale was a close second. Streaming on Crave.
On its surface, this comic drama was about how a road rage incident between a struggling self-employed contractor and a successful entrepreneur spun out of control. But it was also about two deeply unhappy people battling their own stifling senses of inadequacy, and finding unexpected meaning and connection in their feud. Steven Yeun and Ali Wong were masterful in bringing enemies Danny and Amy to gloriously flawed life. Streaming on Netflix
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
Where “Bridgerton” is largely about lust, “Queen Charlotte” was mainly about the redeeming power of love. While maintaining hallmarks of the parent series — sumptuous costumes and sets, diverse casting, steamy sex scenes — this show went deeper in its portrayal of a queen and a king (India Amarteifio and Corey Mylchreest) who find and nurture love despite obstacles like racial prejudice and mental illness. In doing so, the series also gave welcome context to “Bridgerton” characters like Charlotte and her friend Lady Danbury, wonderfully played by Arsema Thomas. Streaming on Netflix
Love is also a factor in this sci-fi series from Canadian producer Graham Yost. It’s the fuel that drives newly appointed sheriff Juliette Nichols (Rebecca Ferguson) to investigate the death of her lover at great personal risk; in the process, uncovering sinister secrets about the 144-storey silo in which she and some 10,000 other people shelter from the supposed dangers of the postapocalyptic outdoors. The show’s twists thrilled; its heart kept you emotionally engaged. Streaming on Apple TV Plus
This drama from Jennifer Podemski took what can seem like an abstract concept to those who haven’t experienced it — the removal of Indigenous children from their families in the so-called Sixties Scoop — and made it achingly personal. In following the search for her birth family by main character Bezhig Little Bird (Darla Contois), literally torn from her Indigenous parents’ grasp and raised Jewish in Montreal, the series convincingly portrayed both the devastation inflicted by the Scoop and the resilience of those who survived it. Streaming on Crave
This comedy drama about the joys and torments of the restaurant business not only evaded the so-called sophomore slump, it obliterated it. In Season 2, the team both in front of and behind the camera achieved new heights as chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and his crew raced to open a new fine-dining restaurant. In its depiction of grief and doubt, but also hope and ambition; of succeeding and failing, and the ways both can mess with your head; and also, yes, of the love of sharing food, “The Bear’s” new season was a tasty tour de force. Streaming on Disney Plus
This series began with its four lead characters, the Dogs of the title, itching to escape their Oklahoma reservation and move to California. It ended with a beautiful, touching and funny third season in which the teenage dreamers (played by Indigenous Canadians D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs and Paulina Alexis, and Native American Lane Factor) learned to cut themselves, each other and their community some slack. It’s a wonderfully idiosyncratic, deeply relatable coming-of-age story that gives you all the feels. Streaming on Disney Plus
The Fall of the House of Usher
In taking on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, horror master Mike Flanagan gave viewers an unsettling series full of indelible images. The Ushers — an obscenely rich family arguably more repugnant than the Roys of “Succession,” their wealth built on the peddling of opiates — fall prey one by one to an ageless angel of death (Carla Gugino) collecting on a debt owed by patriarch Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) and his sister Madeline (Mary McDonnell). Gugino and Greenwood both do bravura work in this show in which the rich pay in gruesome ways. Streaming on Netflix
Murder at the End of the World
Lest anyone think that Emma Corrin’s stunning performance as Princess Diana in Season 4 of “The Crown” was a fluke, their work here should lay the thought to rest. Together with Harris Dickinson, Corrin gives this murder mystery/AI cautionary tale its beating heart with their portrayal of Darby Hart, a young amateur detective striving to solve several deaths at a retreat at a remote Iceland hotel. Darby, with her intelligence and drive, passion and vulnerability, gives the story an affectingly human face. Streaming on Disney Plus
Honourable mentions in alphabetical order: “BlackBerry” (CBC Gem); “Bones of Crows” (CBC Gem); “The Diplomat” (Netflix); “Essex County” (CBC Gem); “Jury Duty” (Prime Video); “Mrs. Davis” (Crave); “A Small Light” (Disney Plus); “Sort Of” Season 3 (CBC Gem); “Ted Lasso” Season 3 (Apple TV Plus); “Yellowjackets” Season 2 (Crave)
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.
Archita Ghosh appointed President of Montreal’s Rezolution Pictures