Chad Grayson

My Favorite Television Shows of 2023

I didn’t watch as much television this year as I did years before. Actually, that’s not true. When my boyfriend (now Fiancé) Jimmy moved in with me back in March, we needed to synch up all of the shows we wanted to watch together. So, I’ve rewatched a lot of previous seasons of shows along with watching new seasons. As far as new stuff, I watched 33 complete seasons of television. So, I have watched quite a bit. There are some shows I’m not really caught up on yet, so this is not an exhaustive list. I am still waiting to watch Season 2 of Wheel of Time, and Season 4 of For All Mankind, as well as Season 2 of Invasion. So, if you think I have bad taste because I did not name-check your favorite, ok … I probably just haven’t seen it. I’m sure it’s on the list.

So here they are, my favorite TV series of 2023. Notice this says ‘favorite,’ I make no claims as to them being the best, just the ones that I enjoyed the most.

5. The Legend of Vox Machina Season 2 (Prime Video)

               I think I put the first season on my favorites list last year, and this season saw no downgrade. I love the slightly crazy fantasy-world critical Matt Mercer and Critical Role have built here. The characters are appealing, the cast well-balanced with D&D-style stock characters, that manage to be distinct despite their generation as role-laying player-characters, The animation is gorgeous, and the storyline compelling.

               In this season, the writers really made me care deeply about the characters as more of their backstories were revealed. We got a look at Vax and Vex’s loathsome birth father, Keyleth’s supporting family of druids, the culture Grog rebelled against, and we met Scanlan’s [redacted]. We also saw heroic sacrifices in epic battles. They pulled the ‘oh no! This character is dead! Wait! No, they’re not!’ trick a couple more times than absolutely necessary, but that’s kind of a genre trope, so I forgive it. We also got a look at the bigger battle brewing, as a group of chromatic dragons lurks at the edges, waiting to conquer the world.

               I have never watched critical role. I have no idea how well this animated adaptation if going along with that larger storyline. And I don’t care. I don’t want spoilers. I’m enjoying this for what it is, a fun, sometimes surprisingly deep, adventure story.

4. Cunk on Earth Season 2 (Netflix)

               What can I say about this show? It’s a fake documentary, purporting to tell the story of human history, hosted by a journalist named Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan), who isn’t dumb, exactly, but has very peculiar and extremely specific takes on every subject. Morgan plays Cunk absolutely straight, never once acting like she is in on the joke that is the Cunk character.

               It is filmed like a very well-funded BBC documentary (the kind PBS likes to bring to the US), and is full of amazing quotes, like Cunk talking about the American experiment:

               ‘With its wide-open spaces and democratic ideals, America soon became known as the land of the free. Which must have come of a surprise to all the slaves.’

               This line is delivered without a wink, without a smile, completely deadpan, as if it’s the most obvious thing in existence. Of course, she’s not wrong.

               I adored this series. I’m still not sure if the experts Cunk interviewed knew what they were getting into, or if they thought they were in a legitimate documentary and were surprised when the nonsense started. In any case, the experts play it straight as well, letting Cunk’s inelegant questions and sometimes nonsensical replies carry the humor. To me, the entire thing was laugh-out-loud funny. I’ve heard there might be a second season, I really hope there is, if only to see how many more times Cunk on Earth can work in a reference to Technocratic’s pump up the Jam, which we all know was the pinnacle of humanity’s cultural achievement.

               Cunk on Earth is weird and wonderful, and you won’t feel bad about laughing at it.

3. Mrs. Davis (Peacock)

               Oh, Lordy, this show. Sister Simone, a rogue nun, in actual romantic love with Jesus, is sent on a Quest for the Holy Grail, the end goal of which is shutting down a powerful AI that has taken over human civilization. She is accompanied by her ex-boyfriend, a cowboy who is trying to prevent his death at the hands of the AI, and who has hooked up with a rogue sect of European criminals, who may or may not want the same things Simone does. And that’s just the first couple of episodes. It gets weirder from there. No, I didn’t think it was possible either.

               This show is a lot of fun. It’s also tragic, and a deep rumination about what it means to be human, and what we might be giving up if we let technology take over. The characters are rich, and well-defined. You can understand their motivations, and they are, for the most part, people you want to root for. It’s funny in places, sad in other. Jesus and the Virgin Mary are actual on-screen characters, which gives the storytellers an opportunity to talk about the nature of faith. Also, is it Blasphemy for a nun to have sex with Jesus? They are married, after all. I did not expect a modern television series to raise that question.

               The story is wide-ranging and epic, and it has, I think, a perfect ending. As much as I enjoyed it, I hope they don’t bring it back for a second season, because it wrapped up in the perfect place.

2. Foundation Season 2 (AppleTV+)

               I really enjoyed Foundation Season 1, but that was definitely a minority opinion. In the second season, they answered the criticisms of the first by offering a more tightly linked story, and developing the characters a little more, even adding in numerous romantic subplots.

               It is a few decades after the first season. The three Cleons have moved into further generations, and the current Day is preparing to get married, ending the genetic dynasty. Meanwhile Salvor Hardin has found Gaal Dornick, and together the two of them have brought Hari Seldon, the father of Psychohistory, back to life in a physical body.

               What follows is a series of linked plotlines that spans the galaxy. There is, apparently, a conspiracy to kill Day, but this is not what it seems. And on Terminus, the home of the Foundation, a revolution is brewing that the Empire will have to put down. And on the edges, Demerzal, Empire’s lover and majordomo (also, immortal robot) keeps track of everything, directing things along a master plan. Whose plan? Good Question!

               There are fascinating characters and complex moral questions. Epic space battles, and perfidious telepaths. It’s fun and deep at the same time, with a villain you really want to see go down (who does get a satisfying comeuppance). Doomed romances (and one that receives it happy ever after, sort of) and last stands. A lot of interesting sci-fi ideas.

               This is in no way like the books. There are some character names and a general concept in common, but this is not a straight adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Magnum Opus. And that is a good thing. Those books were good, but very dated, with some unfortunate ideas about whose stories were worth telling. I really enjoyed this season and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next.

1. Fall of the House of Usher (Netflix)

               Let me preface this by saying am not usually a horror fan. I don’t like stories with a lot of death, usually. So, it’s very strange that this would be my favorite show of the year, since it is soaked in death, from nearly the first image to the last. What can I say? I contain multitudes.

               This is the story of a family who runs a pharmaceutical empire, one that is under fire for covering up how addictive its products are. Sacklers, pay attention. There is the family Patriarch, and his twin Sister, who run the company. Then the six adult children, who have each gone out and made names for themselves in different fields. One if a medical researcher, one is a game producer, one is a superstar publicist, one is a wellness maven, and one is his father’s right-hand man. This is a family that is on top of the world, despite the legal case against them. It will not stay that way for long.

               A mysterious force, embodied by a woman named Verna (Carla Gugino), begins stalking the family, insinuating herself into the lives of the Usher heirs one by one, and one by one, each heir falls, usually as a consequence of their own actions. This is not really a spoiler. This is a framed story, and you find out the shape of it in the first five minutes. For most of the series, we don’t know what exactly is going on, and when we find out, it is a powerful revelation. It is the rare shocking reveal that makes the whole shape of things come together.

               This is the story about a family succumbing to the rot at its founding. The story is told in parallel timelines, with the story of the twins in their younger days as they extort (and murder) their way into control of an empire. It’s also all based on adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe Stories. Each episode is named after a separate story and has something to do with the manner of death of each heir. There are Poe references woven throughout, though this is not really an adaptation. The Poe elements echo through, providing allusion and context.

               It’s also a story of very bad things happening to terrible people and that is something that it turns out that I am here for. You might be horrified by the things that are happening, but except in a couple of places, you don’t actually feel sorry for the victims.

               I thought this was remarkably effective. I have never watched a Mike Flanagan project before, but I am sure to seek out more. I know there won’t be a second season of this, because, well, everyone is dead, but I’m eager to absorb more stories by this creator.    

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