The television critics for the Los Angeles Times, Lorraine Ali and Robert Lloyd, weigh in on the series they enjoyed the most in 2023, including some that ended, some that were new and some that were international, but all worth watching.
Lorraine Ali: 10 top shows that remind us it's about the people
Remember early spring of this year, when praise and recommendations for new and returning TV shows were arriving at a dizzying pace? “The Last of Us”! “Beef”! The final seasons of “Ted Lasso,” “Succession” and Bill Hader’s superbly dark hit man comedy, “Barry.” While the bounty of content didn’t stop the perennial conversations about the death of prestige TV and the alarming contraction of streamers, it did fuel our ongoing anxiety about never catching up with all the suggestions in our viewing queue. When will I ever find the time to watch all this!? Well, your answer has arrived and it’s called 2024.
The great programming drought is upon us, turning the last decade of too much content into something that appears closer to manageable, and you can thank the writers’ and actors’ strikes for this moment of relief. Studios went dark, halting production on returning shows like Apple TV+’s “Severance,” causing many series premiere dates to be delayed by months if not years. Expect more reality programming and game shows to fill the gap, at least in the first half of 2024. Which brings me back to this top 10 list.
More so than any other year-end list I’ve done over my career as a TV critic, this one should be used to remind you that television is a font of colorful, poignant dramas and ridiculously creative comedies when the medium’s talent are taken care of as they should be. Take them out of the picture, and there’s nothing. So here are 10 shows from 2023 to remind us that it’s people, not brand names or companies, who drive the most vital form of entertainment in American culture right now.
‘The Horror of Dolores Roach’ (Prime Video)
A thoroughly entertaining eat-or-be-eaten tale about the plight of the last few brown folks left in a gentrifying New York neighborhood, where “Sweeney Todd” darkness meets a spot-on comedy about class, race and displacement. Dynamo Justina Machado (“Six Feet Under,” “One Day at a Time”) plays Dolores, fresh out of prison after taking the rap for her ex on a drug-dealing charge. She returns to her old Washington Heights neighborhood after 16 years in the pen only to find rent has quadrupled, yoga studios have replaced bodegas, and pet spas are now a thing. She’s alone until she runs into an old neighborhood acquaintance, Luis (Alejandro Hernandez) who’s running his late father’s restaurant, Empanada Loca. He offers Dolores a rent-free apartment in the basement, where she sets up a masseuse business. And just as customers begin disappearing, the diner offers up a new empanada recipe that becomes a hit among the area’s Instagramming foodies. Based on a Gimlet podcast and a play of the same name, the brisk and morbidly hilarious “Dolores Roach” flew under the radar when it arrived on Prime Video in July, and the streamer did not renew the series for a second season, which is criminal. Luckily you still have the chance to consume Season 1 of this macabre masterpiece.
‘Reservation Dogs,’ Season 3 (FX on Hulu)
The final season of FX on Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs” was a beautifully constructed goodbye to a wonderfully quirky series that challenged every previous TV and film narrative about Native Americans. The half-hour comedy co-created and executive produced by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi followed a quartet of close-knit teenagers — Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) — as they grappled with whether to stay or leave their fictional Oklahoma reservation. The gang’s journey brought us through the mundane churn of junk food meals and high school crushes, as well as the pain of absent parents and the magical realism of smart-ass spirit guides such as William “Spirit” Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth). But the third and final season was the most poignant of them all thanks to unforgettable narratives like “Deer Lady,” an episode that explored the brutality and humiliation of Indian boarding schools and the government’s push over the last two centuries to force assimilation and flatten Indigenous culture. If you watch nothing else, watch this haunting episode. “Reservation Dogs” ended as it began, with an open question about where the friends fit in, and why ultimately it doesn’t matter because they have each other, their elders and the community to catch them when they fall.
‘The Last of Us’ (HBO)
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