If there’s one thing you can count on in the streaming era, it’s that there will always be more worthwhile shows made than anyone could conceivably watch. That was even the case in a year when platforms scaled back on development in hopes of finally turning a profit and creatives went on strike. So, before we look ahead to 2024, here are some of the best TV series—many of them imported from the UK, Australia, or Canada but plenty homegrown in Hollywood as well—that failed to get the attention they deserved in 2023.
A year ago, Bupkis was widely considered to be one of the most anticipated shows of 2023. Co-created by its star, Pete Davidson, based on his life as a celebrity and his family on Staten Island, and featuring a stellar supporting cast, the comedy barely made a ripple when it debuted in May. “How do you get Joe Pesci and Edie Falco, and no viewers?” Punkie Johnson joked in an SNL sketch months later. Well, maybe no one is watching Peacock. Or maybe viewers were put off by the broad, deeply unfunny pilot. Either way, if you give the show a chance, you’ll find a poignant, frequently hilarious, wonderfully acted hybrid of showbiz satire and family sitcom that brims with genuine insight into the 21st century fame machine. Just start with Episode 2.
Class of ‘07 (Amazon)
Not to be confused with FX’s cerebral A.I. thriller Class of ‘09, which came out around the same time, this Australian apocalypse comedy follows alumnae of an all-girls Catholic boarding school after torrential rains strand them at their alma mater on the night of their 10-year reunion. When they wake up the next morning, they discover that the mountaintop academy is now an island, and everyone else they’ve ever known is thousands of feet underwater. Forced to form their own little society, the women’s regression back to their adolescent selves is inevitable.
Colin From Accounts (Paramount+)
How’s this for a meet-cute: Girl crossing intersection flashes breast at boy driving car. Stunned, boy runs over dog. Girl and boy adopt gravely injured sweetheart pup but can’t decide whether they share more than a superficial attraction and a pet with wheels for back legs. The premise is strong, but the neurotic chemistry between Patrick Brammall and Harriet Dyer, who co-created and star in Colin From Accounts, is what makes this ribald, character-driven romantic comedy such a pleasure. Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the mysterious title: Colin is the dog.
The Consultant (Amazon)
Management consultants make great—though seriously underutilized—villains, and who better to play a diabolical outsider who brings an ailing business to its knees than the consistently fearsome Christoph Waltz? This strange and often darkly funny half-hour thriller casts the actor as one Regus Patoff, a consultant who shows up for a stint at a mobile-game company just hours after its founder is murdered, and has no trouble wresting control of the office from its young, bewildered employees. As the Patoff regime grows ever more bizarre, The Consultant offers some trenchant commentary on capitalism and the white-collar workplace. But the best reason to watch is for Waltz’s performance, a masterpiece of carefully calibrated sadism.
Dreaming Whilst Black (Showtime)
How is a young, broke, Black filmmaker supposed to break into an entertainment industry where old, rich, white people hold the purse strings and call the shots? This question fuels Dreaming Whilst Black, an incisive British dramedy that casts co-creator Adjani Salmon as Kwabena, a fledgling writer-director who is desperate to make a short film based on his immigrant grandparents’ romance but keeps getting foiled by obstacles that range from a dire day job to a producer who steals his ideas. The answers—prejudice, tokenism, inequality—can be depressing. But the show’s biting humor leavens the mood, and characters that feel true to life make Kwabena’s story one of the year’s most insightful portraits of an artist as a young striver.
In an alternate reality where every human receives a superpower sometime around their 18th birthday, 25-year-old Jen (Máiréad Tyers) is still waiting to discover a new talent. The coming-of-age metaphor is obvious, but where Extraordinary really excels is in the execution, building a hilarious world that’s a funhouse mirror of our own. While some of Jen’s London neighbors can fly or turn invisible or communicate with the dead, others have less practical, more absurd and entertaining abilities. One can “summon sea creatures”; another “makes people generate their own soundtrack around them.” Tyers is fantastic—spiky, self-deprecating, wonderfully sensitive—and first-time creator Emma Moran is one to watch.
The Lazarus Project (TNT)
Paapa Essiedu, who broke out in an emotional supporting role in I May Destroy You, demonstrates his remarkable range in this British sci-fi thriller about a man who finds he’s repeating long stretches of his life on a loop, with different outcomes each time. It turns out that, decades ago, the top-secret Lazarus Project discovered a way to turn back time—thus averting any disaster that threatens the survival of the human race—and Essiedu’s George is one of very few people who can perceive these resets happening. As he’s absorbed into Lazarus, George is faced with wrenching ethical dilemmas over whether to use the de facto time machine for selfish purposes. More than its action or intrigue, what makes The Lazarus Project such a compelling work of science fiction is its insights into human psychology and relationships.
Little Bird (PBS)
I can’t think of another series that is, at once, as exquisitely lyrical and as incandescently angry as this six-part Canadian drama. The mixture of tones fits the premise: On the verge of getting married, in 1980s Montreal, a young Jewish lawyer (Darla Contois, excellent) feels compelled to leave her adoptive community and find her biological, First Nations family. Flashbacks reveal that she was never given up for adoption; she was wrenched from loving parents as part of an atrocity known as the Sixties Scoop. Her quest to reunite a family torn apart by child protective services yields moments of gorgeous reunion—and lays bare the unconscionable indifference of a racist bureaucracy that shattered lives, then refused to help put them back together.
Everyone loved Minx—the fizzy, 1970s-set comedy in which a feminist writer (Ophelia Lovibond) and an affable pornographer (Jake Johnson) co-found a smart, sexy, subversive magazine for women—when it debuted on the platform formerly known as HBO Max. Then, even though its second season had already been shot, Warner Bros. Discovery canceled it as part of a suite of controversial cost-saving measures enacted by the embattled David Zaslav regime. Luckily, Starz rescued those nearly completed episodes from the dustbin. Unluckily, few seemed to realize it was there. That’s a shame because Season 2 improved upon Season 1, testing the characters in the crucible of success and complicating their relationship with the addition of a benefactor, played by the wonderful Elizabeth Perkins, whose motives may not be entirely pure.
Praise Petey (Freeform)
There are so many adult animated shows these days, most of which range in quality from terrible to mediocre, they’ve started to blur together. So maybe that’s why, on the many occasions when I recommended Praise Petey this year, just about everyone replied that they’d never even heard of it. Here is the wonderful twisted premise: Schitt’s Creek alum Annie Murphy voices the title character, a New York socialite who, after a series of unfortunate events, travels to the small, Southern town bequeathed to her by a recently deceased father she never knew. It turns out he was running a cult, and she’s expected to be its new leader—and carry on its various perverse rituals. Created by former SNL head writer Anna Drezen and featuring a voice cast that includes Christine Baranski, Kiersey Clemons, John Cho, and Stephen Root, it’s an offbeat delight that would make a perfect in-flight or holiday-hibernation binge.
Rain Dogs (HBO)
I never miss a chance to plug my very favorite under-the-radar series of the year. To be honest, at this point, I’ve pretty much run out of things to say about it. Just know that if you come to TV for great, messy, well-developed characters, you won’t want to miss this excellent dramedy that follows a handful of broken people endeavoring mightily—and mostly, but not always, failing—to give each other and themselves the love even the most abject human being deserves. And if you love Daisy May Cooper as the star of Rain Dogs (I can’t see how you wouldn’t), consider heading to Hulu to watch her other solid 2023 release, Am I Being Unreasonable?
Rap Sh!t (Max)
Issa Rae’s extremely online comedy about an up-and-coming Miami rap duo deserved so much more attention than it got in a second season that sent Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillion) out on tour supporting a tacky white rapper who is, herself, the opening act for a moody hip-hop star with genuine cred. There are janky motel rooms, sketchy gatekeepers, judgmental crowds. As the women struggle to pay bills while investing in their future, the big question is who they can trust to have their backs—in love as well as in the music industry.
Slip (Roku Channel)
For all but the most hardened sociopaths, cheating on a spouse is painful enough in itself to send a person spiraling into an abyss of guilt and confusion. But what if you went to bed with a dude who was not your husband and woke up the next morning to find you’d been transported into an alternate reality where you were married to this new guy who was supposed to be a one-night stand? And then when you slept with someone else in an attempt to reset your life, you ended up married to them instead? And so on. This is precisely what happens to the heroine of Slip, an absurd but psychologically revealing, not to mention quite sexy, hidden gem of a half-hour dramedy created by and starring indie filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones.
Such Brave Girls (Hulu)
Hulu squeaks in at the end of the year with the rare female-fronted British traumedy that actually earns the inevitable comparisons to Fleabag and Michaela Coel’s breakout Chewing Gum. The auteur this time around is creator Kat Sadler, who also stars in the semi-autobiographical show as Jodie, a depressive, closeted, 20-something aspiring artist living at home on an eternal gap year. Years ago, her father abandoned the family, and the three women he left behind have yet to get over the loss. Jodie’s sister Billie (played by Sadler’s real-life sister Lizzie Davidson) is a poster child for delulu, convinced she can make the obviously apathetic dude she’s sleeping with fall in love with her. The girls’ mother Deb (Louise Brealey) is similarly desperate to lock down a man—namely her boyfriend Dev (Paul Bazely), who could lift the family out of financial precarity if he wasn’t too busy reading his iPad and mourning his late wife. Such Brave Girls is dark, messy, and full of precisely the kind of pathos that keeps you laughing as you wince.
The Watchful Eye (Freeform)
Some people don’t like to watch shows that have already, prematurely been canceled. I get that. And so I must sadly note that The Watchful Eye got canned, this past summer, after just one season. But if the idea of a thriller set in one of Manhattan’s most exclusive apartment buildings that’s just as much a soap as it is a mystery appeals, then you owe it to yourself to give this exuberantly over-the-top serial a try. It certainly isn’t prestige TV. And that’s precisely what fans of glossy, shamelessly fun forerunners like Revenge and Pretty Little Liars will cherish about it.Leave a comment