Will 2023 be remembered as the year television peaked? Here are our highlights from the first six months.
This is an excerpt from The Spinoff’s pop culture newsletter Rec Room. Sign up for the Friday email here.
The Reservoir Dogs-style finale of Bill Hader’s four-season Los Angeles epic was utterly overshadowed by the equally devastating end of Succession on the same day. That’s a shame: this season was Barry’s best yet, a cinematic marvel that went from Breaking Bad to Better Call Saul then back to Breaking Bad without losing any of its off-kilter intensity and pure love for all things Hollywood. Can’t wait to see what Hader does next (a horror film, by the sound of things). /Chris Schulz
Any show that can make me laugh out loud while also inducing an overwhelming sense of dread deserves to be on a “best of” list. Beef easily fits the bill. What starts off as a simple cat-and-mouse chase following a road rage incident slowly spirals into something far bigger. I spent the first few episodes laughing, and the latter half of the season wincing through some truly uncomfortable moments. It’s a brilliant showcase for leads Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, and absolutely one of the highlights of the year so far. /Stewart Sewman-Lund
Couples Therapy NZ (ThreeNow)
It’s unlike any other local reality show, a deep dive into the relationships of five New Zealand couples with no host, music, elimination rounds or shock tactics on offer. With just a couch and a box of tissues at hand, the drama instead unfolds through subtle shifts in body language or a slight turn of the head. It’s unbelievably tense and uncomfortable. One builds a pillow fort and twirls his wedding ring. Another laughs at every uncomfortable silence. Yes, there are tears. After every episode, I shake my head and say, “Never again.” Yet I’m always back for more. /CS
Dead Ringers (Prime Video)
Does anything sum up 2023 better than Rachel Weisz messily eating felafel and yelling, “Fuck you!” at the guy who just supplied her lunch? Thankfully, Dead Ringers is about much more than rage. With a tone that’s pure 90s cinema, a prescient story about female reproductivity, and a how’d-they-do-that? double act from Weisz, this reboot of David Cronenberg’s 1990 film shocked and stunned throughout its six episodes. I’m glad they made it. I kind of hope they don’t make more. /CS
I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson (Netflix)
The modern comedy can often strain to be so clever, so genre-bending, so peak TV, that it can forget to simply make a joke. Thankfully, Tim Robinson’s stupendously silly sketch show I Think You Should Leave is absolutely nothing but jokes. It will crash into your life like a dating show contestant with a penchant for ziplines and then refuse, ironically, to leave. Dare to enter this munted multiverse of driving crooners, dog hairdos and rat moms, and you might just find the funniest thing of 2023 so far. /Alex Casey
Jury Duty (Prime Video)
Part The Rehearsal, part The Office, Jury Duty was a truly unexpected delight. It follows a very traditional sitcom format – except that the lead character, Ronald, isn’t a “character” at all. He’s a real person sitting through what he believes to be a real (if very bizarre) jury trial, but which is actually a meticulously crafted, hidden camera set-up. Spread across eight episodes, Jury Duty at times fails to maintain its comedic momentum. But when it shines, particularly in the more human moments, it truly shines. /SSL
Somebody Somewhere (Neon)
For me, this is the most necessary show of 2023. No other show has as much heart, as much biting wit, and as much empathy and genuine love for its entire cast. Now in its second season, the show focuses on Sam, a woman in her 40s not just trying to find happiness, but literally finding her singing voice again. At the heart of the show is the growing friendship between her and co-worker Joel (Jeff Hiller), and the push-and-pull between them as they navigates the minefields of approaching middle age while still being in a little bit of an emotional puberty. That might make it sound heavy, but this show is also damn hilarious and ludicrously filthy. I could not recommend it any higher. /Sam Brooks
Logan’s demise in a plane toilet. Tom and Shiv’s game of ‘Bitey’. The election special. That boardroom showdown. Licked cheese and a smoothie smothering. Living+. Colin. That fucking funeral. Sometimes, Succession’s fourth and final season felt like someone really had stuck their dick in the brie. With no holds barred, creator Jesse Armstrong threw every punch possible, and many of those blows landed hard. I don’t think it’s fully sunk in what we had, and I don’t think it’s yet sunk in that it’s gone. When it does, it’s gonna hurt – maybe more than Tom and Shiv yelling, “You kill me, and I kill you,” at each other on a balcony. /CS
Swarm (Prime Video)
If you were wondering what Donald Glover was going to do after Atlanta, you got your answer with Swarm, a grisly seven-part horror show about an obsessive fan. With clever cameos and smart commentary about A-list mega-popstar worship, Swarm was already good, but it’s the performance from Dominique Fishback as Dre – still and composed, then manic and unhinged, always wide-eyed and watching – that announced the arrival of a huge new talent. Now it’s all about what Fishback does next, not Glover. /CS
The Last of Us (Neon)
Perhaps it stuck too close to the source material. Maybe it didn’t feature enough of those freaky mushroom-headed virus-monsters. But HBO’s adaptation of video game hit The Last of Us had three very big things going for it: the apocalyptic relationship between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), the incredible third episode, a standalone love story stunner with Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, and that ending, which, despite being 10 years old now, never loses its impact. /CS
Honourable mentions: Deadloch (Prime Video); The Diplomat (Netflix); Happy Valley’s third season (TVNZ+); High Desert (Apple TV+); Party Down’s third season (TVNZ+); Paul T. Goldman (TBC); Poker Face (TVNZ+); Silo (Apple TV+); Shrinking (Apple TV+); The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime Video); The Power (Prime Video).