TV

Our essential guide to the best TV shows of 2023: From The Last of Us to Succession

Your essential TV for bingeing upon over the festive season, as chosen by Big Issue writers

Collage of the stars of the Big Issue's best TV shows this year

These dark days and cold nights mark the beginning of peak time for television watching. ’Tis the season to watch telly, and lots of it. But plotting a path through the sheer volume of shows being made is a tough task, while keeping up with every streaming platform is hugely expensive. So The Big Issue team have picked out our favourites from the year to help with those all-important TV binge-watching decisions. 

Deadloch (BBC iPlayer)  

A feminist noir black comedy murder mystery featuring some of the finest swearing since records began – what’s not to love about another brilliant Australian series that might just be the best kept TV secret of 2023? At its heart, Deadloch is a riotously funny exploration of a small-town community. Add in the murder of a Very Bad Man, the culture clash between Deadloch’s large liberal lesbian community and the local right-wing male blowhards, a beautifully written and played odd-couple detective duo – senior sergeant Dulcie Collins (Kate Box) and shambolic senior investigator Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami), who is shipped in from the bright lights of Darwin – plus a brilliantly drawn cast of supporting characters and you have a deeply special, thoroughly original series. AL

Colin From Accounts (BBC iPlayer) 

The critically acclaimed comedy begins a couple who find each other when he runs over a dog after she lifts up her top and flashes at him. As meet cutes go, it’s a new one. What follows is the best small-screen romantic comedy of recent times – modern, sharp and genuinely funny. As medical student Ashley and micro-brewery owner Gordon (played by co-creators Harriet Dyer and Patrick Brammall), characters whose quirks and off-kilter warmth are underpinned by a rare kindness, begin co-parenting a damaged dog it’s the start of a beautiful friendship – and an instant dramatic comedy classic. AL

The Last of Us (Sky/Now TV)  

TV adaptions of video games are notoriously bad. But The Last of Us rewrote that script just as the 2013 video game transformed storytelling and human drama for people who thought the medium peaked at Pac-Man. HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama was masterfully adapted by the driving force behind the video game, Neil Druckmann, and grew with the kinds of harrowing and heart-breaking gut-punches showrunner Craig Mazin brought to Chernobyl. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were so well cast as Joel and Ellie that you could swear they were made out of pixels. If video game adaptions supplant superhero shows, as they threaten to in 2024, this will be the show that did it.  LG

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off (Netflix)

The cast of the 2010 cult classic film Scott Pilgrim vs The World returning to voice a Netflix anime series felt like something from a fans’ wish list on an online forum. But it happened. And it breathed new life into the tale of early-20s loser Scott battling his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes to win her heart. Series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s TV take delivered surprises at every turn and rounded out the supporting cast. But the heart – and the celebration of figuring out where your adult life is heading – remains intact. LG  

Fleishman Is in Trouble (Disney+)

A smart comedy drama starring Jesse Eisenberg, Claire Danes and Lizzy Caplan – this is middle-class, middle-aged melancholy in Manhattan (and New Jersey). And it’s marvellous. But you have to get through the first two episodes before its brilliance begins to become apparent. Eisenberg is superb as jittery, awkward doctor Toby Fleishman – all Woody Allen nervous tics, while Danes plays his successful, driven theatre agent soon-to-be-ex-wife Rachel, who leaves for a yoga retreat and never returns. What starts off like a divorcing dad drama – all dating apps, fights over childcare, and re-connecting with estranged old pals – grows into so much more as Danes produces some of her best-ever work as Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s adaptation of her bestselling novel asks smart questions about love, marriage, friendship, parenthood, careers, and growing older in a new world. AL 

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My Mum, Your Dad (ITVX) 

Big Brother meets Love Island, for older people. Oh, and we’re going to secretly make their grown-up kids watch them flirt with each other and talk about their inner most feelings. Puke, right? Wrong. My Mum, Your Dad, presented by Davina McCall, was a joy to watch. Hopeful, sweet, caring, the journey was more than just about the romance. The kids watching their parents’ antics was the best part – unexpectedly, they were kind, understanding and tuned in to their needs and feelings. Watching them seeing their parents vulnerable was emotional, heartfelt and, of course, totally embarrassing. GS

Frasier (Paramount+) 

Sometimes you wanna go watch a show where you don’t just know somebody’s name, but you feel like you’ve grown up with them. Dr Frasier Crane first visited Cheers in 1984. The new incarnation of Frasier nods knowingly at its history without relying entirely on nostalgia. Would we have liked to see what Daphne and Niles are getting up to? Probably. Instead we have Nicholas ‘Rodney’ Lyndhurst as a sarky Harvard colleague – and it’s nice to see Dave enjoy the biggest stage of his career. While not perfect, new Frasier is better than most expected and worth a session. SM 

The Bear (Disney+)

If series one of the drama about a family-run Chicago diner’s fight for survival felt perfect, we hadn’t banked on series two. On the face of it a show about the tribulations of an eatery refit, all humanity was here. The Bear made Jeremy Allen White one of the hottest acting properties around and acquainted millions with the songs of REM. PM 

The Change (Channel 4) 

What could women do if they could cash in all their invisible labour? Imagine all the times spent on chores or unpaid, undervalued caring work suddenly paid back. Well, that’s the jumping off point for Bridget Christie’s triumphant comedy series. Christie plays Linda, who, on finding out she is going through the menopause, ditches her lazy husband, cashes in the hours she has been tallying in her chore ledger, and goes off to the Forest of Dean on her old motorbike. It’s a wonderful, liberating, surreal journey – full of folklore and feminism. Oh, and lots of eels – as Linda finds sisterhood among a community of eccentrics. AL 

The Buccaneers (Netflix) 

The Buccaneers, riddled with lots of scandal, silliness and topped off with a love triangle containing a duke and his best friend, is such a fun watch. It’s about a spirited group of young American women who dance their way into uppity English society, bringing laughter and games along the way. Some storylines are wild and most characters deeply unlikeable, and, of course, it’s all nonsense when it comes to historical accuracy. But this raucously entertaining series can fill a Bridgerton-sized gap in any evening. IM 

Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland (BBC iPlayer)

The BBC’s remarkable, exhaustive look back at NI’s descent into civil war and the aftershocks that remain was a difficult, harrowing but hugely gripping watch. The varied talking heads tell a series of stories that have clearly being weighing heavily on their minds for a long time – their cathartic nature is at times almost unbearably intense, but ultimately redemptive. The five-part documentary does an important job in showing that peace and reconciliation can be achieved from the most trying of circumstances, a message that will resonate with those facing troubled times elsewhere right now. Alan W 

The Gold (BBC iPlayer)

The heist is hardly the point of The Gold. Yes, Guilt writer Neil Forsyth uses the infamous Brink’s-Mat robbery as the kicking-off point, but the real story is how the £26 million haul corrupts and ruins lives. What could have been a rote cops-and-robbers thriller instead shows how the illicit becomes licit, how power and riches allow villains to get away with it, and how its influence is still felt now. Think The Bill crossed with The Big Short, with a healthy pinch of White GoldGB

Shrinking (Apple TV+) 

Harrison Ford is such a great movie star that it can be easy to overlook his actual acting brilliance. The timing. The line delivery. That face. Shrinking is not the Harrison Ford show. As grieving therapist Jimmy Laird, Jason Segel is at the heart of the action but, as Jimmy’s boss and mentor Dr Paul Rhoades, Ford unveils hidden depths across the 10 episodes. And behind the trademark Fordian deadpan grumpiness, quick quips – plus some unexpected singing in the car – emerges a complex character full of contradiction, melancholy and love emerges. AL 

Succession (Sky/Now TV) 

Going out on a high is not just for media moguls on the floor of a private jet. Succession’s final series really delivered. Unlike certain other TV shows, its final outing didn’t feel like chess pieces were being moved around to service the climax. Instead, every episode hurtled us closer to the inevitable showdown, with golden moments along the way. The shock and grief as Roman, Kendall and Shiv gathered around a phone on a yacht was – somehow – deeply relatable. The venal ineptitude in a TV boardroom as the fate of a nation is decided felt closer to the truth of how these moments play out than grand conspiracies suggest. And the moments of unity let us trick ourselves they weren’t fleeting. Brian Cox contemplating death in a diner. Kieran Culkin’s Roman realising he is not, and will never be, that guy in a packed cathedral. Then, when the cards were on the table, and they all had to meet their destiny: desolation. All together now: “I’m the eldest boy.” GB

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Ted Lasso made me cry over football. I finally got it! It just took a sweet and silly show that feels like a warm hug (and one that has very little to do with football and much more to do with human heart) to make me root for a team. The third season continued the charm, spearheaded by Hannah Waddingham – now undoubtedly a superstar – and Jason Sudeikis who were as endearing as ever. Sometimes, the more people tell you to watch something, the less you want to watch it. But with Ted Lasso, that would be so wrong. It’s one of the most heartwarming shows on TV, and when you get to the end you’ll wish you could watch all over again for the first time.  IM

Blue Lights (BBC iPlayer)

Written by former Panorama documentary makers Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson, the series has a gritty authenticity and slowly reveals the politics of policing Belfast to viewers unaware of how the land lies a quarter of a century after the Good Friday Agreement. AL

Wham! (Netflix) 

Here at Big Issue we always knew George Michael, a friend of the magazine, was a good person. But less was known about his ex-bandmate, Andrew Ridgeley who, when Wham! split, roared off into the sunset in a puff of French Formula 3. Wham! follows the shy nerd (Michael) and the cool kid (Ridgeley) enjoying what they do, from 1970s Bushey to big-haired, perma-tanned pop stardom. Expect ’80s nostalgia, rare clips and unheard stories – such as how Michael came out to his friend on the set of Club Tropicana – all told via a scrapbook diligently kept by Ridgeley’s mum. What emerges is a new picture of Ridgeley’s influence on the man who would become a solo superstar. Always the also-ran of the duo, he narrates his version of events without bitterness and turns out to also be a thoroughly nice bloke. Theirs is a sweet story of a lasting friendship. Alison W

Poker Face (Apple TV+) 

A modern homage to Columbo – the greatest detective show of all time – Poker Face sees the intensely charismatic Natasha Lyonne swap Peter Falk’s rumpled raincoat and cigars for denim hotpants and cans of beer. LK

The Sixth Commandment (BBC iPlayer)

True crime exploits, distorts and adds a sheen to obliterated lives. Audiences have become accustomed to eight-parters, where victims are reduced to stereotypes and tragedy is picked clean for content. But The Sixth Commandment showed there’s still value in telling these stories. From 2014 to 2017, Ben Field befriended two elderly residents of a Buckinghamshire village, attempting to gain their wealth. Timothy Spall and Anne Reid play his victims, Peter Farquhar and Ann Moore-Martin. This tragic, sinister tale is far from an easy watch. But it is quietly spectacular. Our society tends to flatten and forget the elderly – here is a reminder, vividly rendered, of the consequences. GB 

Who Is Erin Carter? (Netflix)

After the first episode, you’ll be hooked – and definitely more than suspicious that schoolteacher Erin isn’t really who she says she is after she takes on armed robbers in a Spanish supermarket, by herself. Go Erin (or is it Kate?). The appearance of Douglas Henshall, who we miss as Shetland cop Jimmy Pérez, is quite a surprise, swapping Lerwick for Barcelona to play suave businessman Daniel Lang, and we’re still deciding if he pulls it off. But Erin Carter, whoever she is, is twisty, turny, action packed and sometimes a wee bit silly binge-watch. So enjoy the ride. GS 

Juice (BBC iPlayer) 

Silly walks and slapstick, surreal humour and such excruciating scenes, Mawaan Rizwan’s queer confessional comedy series marks him out as a true original and giant talent. Rizwan plays Jamma, whose lovable haplessness at work as a market researcher, at home with sensible therapist boyfriend Guy (Russell Tovey), and at play or among his family (including his real-life mum and brother) as he quests for attention is set against an eye-popping barrage of offbeat visual ideas, creating shot through with real heart. AL  

Words: Paul McNamee, Steven MacKenzie, Alison Wright, Adrian Lobb, Liam Geraghty, Greg Barradale, Gillian Smith, Alan Woodhouse, Isabella McRae, Laura Kelly 

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