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Best Of

The Best TV Shows of 2023 So Far

Our top picks include a mockumentary, a winning new sitcom, an unsettling adaptation, and some returning ringers.
  • Clockwise: Mrs. Davis, Primo, Vanderpump Rules, Succession (Photos: Peacock/Amazon Studios/Bravo/HBO)
    Clockwise: Mrs. Davis, Primo, Vanderpump Rules, Succession (Photos: Peacock/Amazon Studios/Bravo/HBO)

    School's out for the rapidly approaching summer, but it's time for a different kind of status report: the best TV of 2023 so far. Things got off to kind of a slow start this year, as Apple TV+ debuted book adaptation after book adaptation and Netflix pumped out the thrillers. But the current TV season really blossomed in the spring, and it wasn't just because of the returns of HBO ringers like Succession and Barry. From March on, we began to see shows on everything from Peacock to Freevee take some big swings. Reality TV saw some exciting shakeups of its own, as one long-running show was torn apart — and stitched back together, one reunion part at a time — by scandal, while a new competition series rounded up alumni from unscripted franchises far and wide. 

    Primetimer's already shared a running list of the best TV lines of the year, and now we've put together our picks for the best shows of 2023 so far, presented here in an unranked list (gotta leave something for the end of year). You'll find winning new comedies, an adaptation that surpasses the original, and, of course, the show it seemed everyone was talking about. 

    Jury Duty (Amazon Freevee)

    Amazon Freevee’s Jury Duty took mockumentaries to a whole new level. Created by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (The Office), the comedy series centers around Ronald Gladden, a regular guy who thinks he’s part of an educational documentary about the California judicial system. Little does he know, everything around him is intricately planned and staged by a group of trained actors and crew members in a grand, Truman Show-esque manner.

    With its innovative premise and Gladden’s charm, the series pushed the boundaries of absurdity, subjecting its unlikely hero to a variety of chaotic circumstances — whether it’s fake dinners at Margaritaville or introducing the outrageous concept of “soaking.” Despite it all, Gladden managed to defy all expectations, gracefully navigating these events and even emerging as the unofficial leader of the group.

    The show’s success is a testament to the remarkable talents of the cast — including James Marsden, Mekki Leeper, and Edy Modica, to name just a few — all of whom had to improvise and stay in character for extended periods in order to maintain the show’s facade. And against all odds, Jury Duty emerged as a seamless blend of dedication and comedic brilliance. — Dianna Shen

    Succession (HBO)

    Succession was more than just one of the best shows of 2023 so far — it was the biggest TV event of the spring. The HBO drama has always relished in its characters' discomfort, but in its fourth and final season, creator Jesse Armstrong ratcheted up the tension in episodes that brought the Roy siblings' deeply flawed worldview into greater focus. Even when Succession was at its most nausea-inducing, like the far-too-real election episode "America Decides," Armstrong and this cadre of talented actors stayed true to these horrible (and horribly wealthy) characters to the very end.

    In that sense, the 90-minute finale — in which Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) brokered a deal with Kendall (Jeremy Strong), only to turn on him at the last minute — wasn't surprising in the least, though the process of getting to that big backstab was filled with unexpected delights. (Roman licking Peter's "special cheese" remains one of the show's funniest moments.) There are no winners in the battle to take the Waystar Royco throne, but for those 10 weeks, watching the Roys duke it out in beautifully crafted, lush scenes felt like a victory in and of itself. — Claire Spellberg Lustig

    Primo (Amazon Freevee)

    Shea Serrano took the inspiration for his sitcom about a Mexican-American teen growing up under the influence of his single mom and five eccentric uncles from his own life. In partnership with TV comedy guru Michael Schur (Parks and RecreationThe Good Place), Serrano turned his experiences into the best new sitcom of the year.

    In an era where so many top comedies have ambitions beyond just being funny, Primo stands out for its commitment to putting laughs first. Rafa (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio) experiences the usual teen dramas (college prep, liking a girl), and the show takes that seriously, but it's all happening amid the hurricane of nonsense from his uncles, performed with incredible comedic skill by Carlos Santos, Henri Esteve, Johnny Rey Diaz, Efraín Villa, and Jonathan Medina. It's also a show that allows Christina Vidal, as Rafa's mom, to mix it up and be just as peculiar and funny as the rest of the cast. As a family sitcom, it ticks all the boxes: likable, silly, with an undercurrent of love and support. It's the easiest new-show recommendation of the year. Try Primo once, you'll love it. — Joe Reid

    The Other Two (Max)

    The Other Two has never been afraid to go to extremes for laughs, and in Season 3, that meant going to new heights — quite literally in the case of Episode 6, “Brooke, and We Are Not Joking, Goes to Space” — to skewer the entertainment industry. As all the Dubeks find new levels of fame, things around them have only gotten more and more bizarre, and for the better. From the pitch-perfect Pleasantville parody to Pat’s (Molly Shannon) relationship with Marvel’s Simu Liu (who apparently is bad at sex) to, yes, Brooke’s (Heléne Yorke) actual trip to space, this season has made anything seem possible.

    One of the season’s highlights has been Drew Tarver as Cary, whose insatiable obsession with fame turns downright villainous. This is a man so desperate for attention that he’ll take public transit to the ends of the earth to rate burrito at least 10 spots just for a write-up next to a tiny picture of himself on what turns out to be a fake blog. He’ll do mental gymnastics to make sense of the logic behind Disney’s “unapologetically gay” blob. And he’ll stay in a relationship with a method actor whose turn as a serial killer may or may not be putting him in real danger just for the cred. It’s mortifying, over-the-top, and one of the most hilarious performances on television this year. — Brianna Wellen

    Barry (HBO)

    Back in 2018, no one could have anticipated that what began as a dark comedy about a miserable assassin seeking reinvention through an acting class would evolve into a biting Hollywood satire. Along the way, Barry co-creator, star, and frequent director Bill Hader — who helmed all eight of Season 4’s episode — experimented with a diverse range of styles and techniques, which added even more complexity and intensity to the show’s already gripping storyline.

    As Season 4 unfolded, it became evident that Barry was destined to reach a devastating end. A final showdown between NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Fuches (Stephen Root) resulted in a brutally tragic confrontation that left a trail of destruction in its wake. And after four seasons, Barry found it was too late for redemption, as Gene (Henry Winkler) sealed both their fates. Though Barry reached an undeniably bleak conclusion, it was one of the year’s finest, its existential conclusion ultimately serving as a haunting portrait of the consequences of one man’s choices. — Dianna Shen

    Mrs. Davis (Peacock)

    Like a mustachioed ex-cowboy riding up on a motorcycle to lead a daring escape through a giant donut, Mrs. Davis burst onto the scene this April to give freshman series a fighting chance against returning giants like Succession and Barry, re-energizing the broader TV season for good measure. The show is nearly as much fun to describe as it is to watch: a nun (Betty Gilpin) teams up with some Tyler Durden-loving Luddites (including Jake McDorman as the former cowboy) to find the Holy Grail in order to take down an omnipresent A.I. with a name like your first-grade teacher.

    And that's just one way to sum up the high-concept premise, which simultaneously walks the lines between drama and comedy, fantasy and sci-fi. Gilpin is the eye at the center of this maelstrom, handling the giddy turns in tone and plot with preternatural grace and humor. Though they could have leaned into the bleak prospect of algorithms taking over our way of life, series creators Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof present a vision that’s about as far away as you can get from Black Mirror: one in which hope is around every corner (and giant donut). — Danette Chavez

    Vanderpump Rules (Bravo)

    Season 10 of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules was already poised to be jam-packed with drama. Longtime couple Katie Maloney and Tom Schwartz were dealing with their divorce; Lala Kent had to contend with an exposé about her former fiancé Randall Emmett’s predatory behavior; James Kennedy and Raquel Leviss just ended their engagement; and Scheana Shay was getting married again. Then, on the fateful day of March 2, 2023, the world learned that Leviss and Tom Sandoval were having an affair behind Ariana Madix’s back, and suddenly an already compelling batch of episodes became must-see TV.

    Things became almost interactive. News coming out in real time as episodes aired turned everyone watching into sleuths looking for clues of the affair. “Scandoval” took over the national news cycle, compelling even more people to watch the series. The finale episode was filmed ad hoc to capture the aftermath of Sandoval and Leviss’ affair being exposed. The result was the most emotionally raw footage ever captured for the series — the way Madix expertly dressed down Sandoval just one day after their relationship fell apart will go down as one of the best scenes in reality television history. — Brianna Wellen

    The Traitors U.S. (Peacock)

    With so many celebrity competition series on the market, it can be difficult to cut through the noise, but The Traitors did just that when it premiered in January. Adapted from a Dutch series with a similar format, The Traitors saw 20 contestants (10 reality TV stars, and 10 regular people) attempt to root out the rats among them in hopes of winning $250,000. As suspicions mounted, rivalries developed, none more entertaining than the one between Kate Chastain, who emerged as the season's villain (and embraced her role as such), and Big Brother alum Rachel Reilly. Kate's endless comments about her enemy's eccentric outfits and Rachel's pointed accusations brought the drama to the show's down moments, and luckily for viewers, the structure of the game ensured they remained in the Scottish castle as long as possible, as the "traitors" saw them as useful shields.

    Two unsuspecting finalists and one Andy Cohen-hosted reunion later, Peacock has renewed The Traitors for a second season featuring a rumored all-celebrity cast. Whether or not that proves true, I'll be waiting eagerly for the treachery, clandestine "murders," and chaotic banishment ceremonies to come. Claire Spellberg Lustig

    Dead Ringers (Prime Video)

    Rachel Weisz's performance as twin gynecologists — each spiraling into her own genius and ambition, neither one able to function without the other filling in the blank spaces in their souls — is a technical marvel and terrifying to behold. In adapting David Cronenberg's 1988 psychological thriller, Alice Birch not only changes the main characters from men to women but places them in the dark underbelly of capitalist modern medicine. With a huge assist from directors like Sean Durkin and Karyn Kusama, Birch's version of Dead Ringers is a visually intense nightmare. Beverly and Elliot Mantle (Weisz) plunge into their increasingly compromised vision for a birthing center that will revolutionize maternity care and the science of reproduction, while the audience is left to recoil in horror at the lengths they're compelled to go to.

    If that doesn't sound like a breezy good time on the couch, it's not. Appropriate for a Cronenberg adaptation, Dead Ringers is a darkly immersive descent into the sisters' ambitions and codependency that's probably best experienced a few episodes at a time with breaks to let the sun shine in. But a TV show this committed to a vision so dark and unrelenting is rare, and ought to be celebrated. Joe Reid

    Somebody Somewhere (HBO)

    Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s dramedy had an interesting time slot for its second season, following Succession and Barry in HBO’s Sunday night lineup. Few shows could hope to have that kind of lead-in, but Somebody Somewhere more than earned its spot on that roster. Every week, the series served as an effervescent chaser to all the drama and backstabbing of the preceding hour-and-a-half (sometimes two) of TV, all while plumbing its own emotional depths.

    In Season 2, Sam (Bridget Everett) and Joel’s (Jeff Hiller) friendship was tested, as they found new inspiration and formed new romantic attachments. Just like the series, though, their relationship is built on a rock-solid foundation, one made up in part by an unwavering belief in the decency of others (and Everett’s vocal stylings). But Somebody Somewhere has always been just as committed to exploring the shade as it is the sunshine, probing Sam’s sudden reticence around her best friend and the drawbacks of Tricia’s (Mary Catherine Garrison) newfound fame. What a relief to not have to use this space to eulogize this bawdy and big-hearted comedy, which was renewed for Season 3 just days after its second season finale.Danette Chavez