From the bleak but powerful closing chapters of Top Boy and Happy Valley to the regal romance of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story and The Buccaneers, the sweet crushes of Heartstopper and Sex Education to the comedy prowess of Dreaming Whilst Black, we’ve been treated to an impressive array of shows both new and old.
The 20 best TV shows of 2023
Here are our favourite British TV shows of 2023 and where you can watch them.
Special mention: Doctor Who, The 60th Anniversary Specials
Russell T Davies reunited arguably the best Doctor/companion pairing to date.
Credit: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios
It’s been fifteen years in the making, but a great injustice of was finally rectified on Doctor Who. During the reign of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in the mid-00s, his outspoken and brilliant companion Donna Noble helped save existence — and for her troubles had to forget all the incredible interstellar adventures she’d gone on. It was one of the most infuriating moments Whovians have yet suffered. But with Tennant coming back to be the Fourteenth Doctor, Russell T Davies had a second chance to do right by Catherine Tate’s beloved badass. And boy did he!
For three specials, “The Star Beast,” “Wild Blue Yonder,” and “The Giggle,” Davies reunited arguably the best Doctor/companion pairing to date. Tennant and Tate got back into it with all the verve and nerve they had seasons back. Foes new and old came to play, ranging from the malevolently cute Meep to the preachy Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris). But the best bit of it all was that Donna Noble was finally given back her memories, and by extension her full identity. Sure, she’d grown to be a loving wife to her adorable husband (Karl Collins) and devoted mother to her creative daughter (Yasmin Finney). But once the Doctor set her recall free, the Donna who could take on an alien arachnid queen or a pompous Time Lord was back and good as ever. And man was she rightly PO’d about those lottery winnings!
While we’re looking forward to seeing what Ncuti Gatwa brings as the Fifteenth Doctor next season, it’s good to know the TARDIS door hasn’t closed on more Doctor Donna adventures. — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
Helena Bonham Carter in “Nolly.”
It’s a Sin, Years and Years, and Doctor Who wizard Russell T Davies brought us one of the more fun series on TV this year, based on a real story. In Nolly, Helena Bonham Carter is magnetic as famous ’70s soap star Noelle Gordon, whose fame pedestal is rattled when she’s suddenly axed from the popular Crossroads soap. At once a testament to the rampant sexism and ageism in entertainment and an ode to British TV in the late ’70s, early ’80s, Nolly is a sharply scripted dramedy from Davies. Augustus Prew is a particular highlight as Nolly’s swaggering co-star Tony Adams. — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
How to watch: Nolly is now streaming on ITVX in the UK, U.S. release TBC.
19. Three Little Birds
Yazmin Belo in “Three Little Birds”.
Based on his mother’s personal stories, Sir Lenny Henry’s Three Little Birds offers a compelling, poignant perspective on England post-Windrush and in particular, the experiences of three Jamaican women who migrate to the UK in the late ’50s. Glamorous Hollywood hopeful Chantrelle (Saffron Coomber), pious Hosanna (Yazmin Belo), and dauntless Leah (Rochelle Neil) leave their lives behind for a new one, connected on arrival with Leah’s brother Aston (Javone Prince). Each follows their own path, experiencing overt racism, discrimination, hostility, and social ostracism in England, and the series’ leads Coomber, Belo, and Neil give impeccable performances.
gal-dem’s Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Leah Cowan on the forgotten women of the Windrush generation
As well as being deeply moving, however, the show wields a powerful ability to weave moments of joy, friendship, and camaraderie through the incessant atmosphere of threat and injustice. As Digital Spy’s Janet A Leigh writes, “It’s not inserted as a way to bring light relief from all the misery but to reflect the joyful spirit of the Black community and our ability to tap into light even in the darkest of times.” — S.C.
Idris Elba in “Hijack”.
Credit: Apple TV+
Set over seven real-time hours, Hijack is something you could finish on a flight but should absolutely not watch on one. With Jim Field Smith and Mo Ali directing, and Idris Elba in the lead, this ridiculously fun Apple TV+ series is about a plane hijacked on its way to London. Elba plays Sam Nelson, a corporate negotiator who tries to bargain with flight KA29’s villains all the way to the final humdinger of an episode. As Mashable’s Belen Edwards writes in her review, “Hijack is the perfect show to watch if you want to get sucked into a mildly ridiculous, yet totally engrossing scenario. You’ll squeal as our heroes brave danger, swoon at Elba’s charisma, and even chuckle at some choice one-liners.” — S.C.
How to watch: Hijack is now streaming on Apple TV+.
17. Blue Lights
Katherine Devlin in “Blue Lights.”
Credit: BBC/Gallagher Films/Two Cities Television/Steffan Hill
If you’ve ever felt out of your depth at work, watch Blue Lights. This tense, thrilling Belfast-set BBC crime series follows three probationary constables, Grace Ellis (House of the Dragon‘s Sian Brooke), Annie Conlon (The Dig‘s Katherine Devlin), and Tommy Foster (newcomer Nathan Braniff), who are flailing in their trial periods. Hazed by their colleagues, reprimanded by their superiors, and intimidated by locals, they’re all finding their feet on the job. Meanwhile, they’re dealing with gang leader James McIntyre (John Lynch) and territory boundaries, following protocol, and tension rising with both the community and undercover operations from English police forces. — S.C.
How to watch: Blue Lights is now streaming on BBC iPlayer in the UK, U.S. release TBC.
16. Lockwood and Co.
Cameron Chapman, Ali Hadji-Heshmati, and Ruby Stokes in “Lockwood and Co.”.
Based on Jonathan Stroud’s young adult supernatural novels, Netflix‘s Lockwood and Co. brought the teen ghostbusting, haunted house energy we needed in deep, dark winter from Attack the Block director Joe Cornish. As seen in his alien invasion favourite, Cornish’s series again puts young people at the forefront of a threat, the best fighting chance we have against malevolent forces. That’d be Anthony Lockwood (Cameron Chapman), who runs his own wraith-hunting agency in London, battling ghosts with his trusty sidekick George Karim (Ali Hadji-Heshmati), and psychic teen Lucy Carlyle (Ruby Stokes).
Lockwood and Co. appears to sit in a very specific target age demographic, taking back scary spaces for older teens in a way that would delight one Wednesday Addams. One thing I would caution is that every episode of Lockwood and Co. is haunted by many dark causes of death, so it’s pretty intense for younger teens. But Lockwood and Co. is the kind of show useless grown-ups might also enjoy: a ghost hunting detective story that involves psychic powers and personal secrets to be uncovered. Grab a big cuppa and a blanket and settle in.* — S.C.
How to watch: Lockwood and Co. is now streaming on Netflix.
15. The Buccaneers
Cheers to “The Buccaneers”!
Credit: Apple TV+
Based on Edith Wharton’s final novel and written by Katherine Jakeways, eight-episode AppleTV+ series The Buccaneers is a 19th century romance drama following five young American ladies drawn to England after one of their high society weddings to an English lord. Arriving in London, the newcomers are faced with deep judgment while bringing their own. But there’s also a landscape of eligible suitors on the horizon, including a forlorn Duke standing on a clifftop looking for a wife. Whatever will he do?
If you’re craving the next season of Bridgerton, The Buccaneers will satiate your thirst with diabolical narrative twists, simmering romantic leads, savvy performances, a killer modern soundtrack, and the lavish design of our society ball dreams.* — S.C.
How to watch: The Buccaneers is now streaming on Apple TV+.
14. Everything Now
Credit: Netflix / Left Bank
For a series that demands everything, everywhere, all at once, Everything Now actually manages to hit plenty of teen show requisites while creating its own. Teen shows are seemingly rampaging through streaming services of late, blending comedy, mystery, and drama, from Netflix’s Sex Education, Never Have I Ever, Heartstopper, and Riverdale to HBO’s Euphoria — standing on the shoulders of Capeside and Bayside giants, of course.
Netflix’s latest British offering, created by 22-year-old Ripley Parker, is in intimidating company but manages to stand joyfully queer and tall, with its raw, authentic, and surprisingly hilarious portrayal of the pitfalls and triumphs of teen life among serious mental health themes. The series revolves around protagonist Mia (played with utter vulnerability, obstinacy, and comedic flair by Talk to Me’s Sophie Wilde), who is managing the anfractuous road through physical and mental recovery from an eating disorder. It’s a deeply significant part of her life, but importantly, the series insists on it not being the defining aspect of it. In fact, she has a whole bucket list to “redefine” herself with.* — S.C.
How to watch: Everything Now is now streaming on Netflix.
15. Starstruck, Season 3
Rose Matafeo in “Starstruck”.
Credit: BBC/Avalon UK
The third season of New Zealand comedian Rose Matafeo’s joyous millennial rom-com series, Starstruck is a victory lap for the comedian. Created by and starring Matafeo, alongside fellow comedian Alice Snedden, BBC/HBO’s Starstruck is three seasons in and well-settled in its incisive examination of life’s sweet messiness, the gloriously awkward clusterfuck of falling for someone, the heartbreak of things falling apart, and that all-too-relatable feeling that everyone around you has their shit more together than you ever will.
Season 1 leaned into the temperamental chaos of something new, introducing Jessie (Matafeo) and Tom’s (Nikesh Patel) burgeoning Notting Hill situation and dealing with Tom’s fame, while Season 2 asked “what next?” after Jessie’s grand romantic gesture, moving them into early dating territory. Season 3? Hard ex-ville.* — S.C.
How to watch: Starstruck Season 3 is now streaming on BBC iPlayer in the UK, and on Max in the U.S.
Genesis Lynea and Déja J. Bowens in “Champion”.
Credit: BBC/New Pictures Ltd/Ben Gregory-Ring
Queenie author Candice Carty-Williams helms the brilliiant BBC/Netflix drama series Champion, “a love letter to Black British music set in south London,” following rapper Bosco Champion (Top Boy‘s Malcolm Kamulete) and his sister/manager, Vita (the incredible Déja J. Bowens in her TV debut). Just home from prison ready to rebuild his life and career, Bosco is reestablishing himself in the music industry when Vita, a talented artist in her own right, is scouted by his rival, Bulla (Corey Weekes). Tension in the Champion family rises, and the siblings find themselves at odds (often publicly), as Vita finds herself more and more isolated the closer to her dream she gets.
The cast also includes singer-songwriter Ray BLK, Small Axe‘s Nadine Marshall, His Dark Materials‘ Ray Fearon, Doctor Who’s Jo Martin, Everything I Know About Love‘s Adeyinka Akinrinade, Genesis Lynea, and many more. And the music in this series? The work of champions. — S.C.
How to watch: Champion is now streaming on BBC iPlayer, U.S. release TBC.
Máiréad Tyers in “Extraordinary”.
Credit: Natalie Seery/Disney+
Disney’s Extraordinary is a wildly fun take on superpowers, in a world where everyone’s kind of rubbish at using them. Created by Emma Moran and directed by Toby McDonald, Jennifer Sheridan, and Nadira Amrani, Extraordinary follows the plight of Jen (Máiréad Tyers), a 25-year-old who didn’t get her superpowers in a world where everyone else got theirs at the age of 18. The show’s brilliance, beyond its playful special effects and overarching hypothetical, is the cast. As Mashable’s Caitlin Welsh writes in her review, “Extraordinary earns its place among the best of the millennial romcom sitcoms — and stands well above certain other eight-or-so-episode-long shows about people with superpowers on Disney-owned streaming platforms — thanks to its whip-smart writing and lived-in performances.” — S.C.
10. Sex Education
Ncuti Gatwa in “Sex Education”.
This year was a big one for British teen series, especially on Netflix, especially with newcomer Everything Now, returning favourite Heartstopper, and the very final season of Sex Education. Saying goodbye to Moordale was an emotional time, as these long-loved, scattered characters had a lot on their plates. Directed by Alyssa McClelland, Dominic Leclerc, and Michelle Savill, Season 4 of Sex Education saw the crew navigating faith, new friends, identity and sexuality, gender dysphoria, unexpected crushes, past trauma, new relationships, and exams, all within a new school, Cavendish College, a mindful education paradise/Big Tech campus.
Ncuti Gatwa and Emma Mackey are season standouts as Eric and Maeve, navigating faith and processing grief respectively. As I wrote in my review, “The series farewells its characters from a place of truly knowing them, inside and out, and how much they mean to each other, the audience, and the actors who’ve played them. Valuing connection and fellowship, Sex Education champions second chances, forgiveness, and the opportunity to apologise and change your behaviour if you fuck up. The series has grown with its characters, sometimes moving into heavier territory while keeping its silliness, awkwardness, and joy.”*— S.C.
How to watch: Sex Education is now streaming on Netflix.
9. Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
India Amarteifio and Corey Mylchreest in “Queen Charlotte”.
Credit: Nick Wall/Netflix
A prequel looking into a young Charlotte’s (India Amarteifio) life and the early days of her marriage with King George (Corey Mylchreest), Queen Charlotte is by far Bridgerton‘s best love story and I can’t imagine a future where it isn’t. (Shonda Rhimes, I challenge you to outdo yourself.) Their relationship is one for the ages, brimming with the Bridgerton yearning and courting we all adore, and topped with a strangers-to-soulmates arc that’ll tug at your heartstrings. Although Charlotte and George may be the brightest diamonds of the season, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story also shines with a whole cast of characters that are deliciously divine and in their own equally infatuating relationships — special shout-out to a young Lady Danbury (Arséma Thomas) and Brimsley (Sam Clemmett) for being the real G.O.A.T.s of the season.
How to watch: Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is now streaming on Netflix.
8. Black Mirror Season 6
Anjana Vasan in the “Demon 79” episode.
The sixth season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror characteristically filled us with even more existential dread than ever, with five episodes mainly flipping the bird directly at Netflix itself. From the streaming service satire “Joan Is Awful,” to the true crime tale “Loch Henry,” the space thriller “Beyond the Sea,” fantasy horror pivot “Mazey Day,” and apocalyptic slasher “Demon 79,” the series once again turns our obsessions with tech and entertainment back on us.
Notably, the timing of the series release was everything, as Mashable’s Kristy Puchko wrote in her review, “As screenwriters are waging war against studios and streamers that would underpay them and undercut them with AI, Black Mirror Season 6 hits Netflix with a middle finger pointed firmly at a Hollywood studio system that doesn’t give a shit about humanity.” — S.C.
How to watch: Black Mirror is now streaming on Netflix.
7. Good Omens Season 2
David Tennant and Michael Sheen in the second season of “Good Omens”.
Credit: Amazon Studios
Good Omens, Amazon’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s co-written 1990 fantasy novel, returned for a second season of apocalyptic escapades this year — and it was just as excellent as the first. Created, written, and executive produced by Gaiman, the series sees David Tennant and Michael Sheen return as eternal frenemies: the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale. This time, they’re not chasing the antichrist child around the world, but instead, a returning Jon Hamm as the overtly pompous angel Gabriel, who turns up stark naked, memory-less, holding an empty box, and needing to be hidden from Heaven and Hell.
Frances McDormand is back as the voice of God and our glorious narrator, as is Miranda Richardson as new demon Shax, Hell’s new representative on Earth (Richardson played Madame Tracy in Season 1). It’s a rollicking script in absurd circumstances and a bloody good time as always. — S.C.
How to watch: Good Omens is now streaming on Prime Video.
6. Boiling Point
Ray Panthaki and Vinette Robinson in “Boiling Point.”
Credit: BBC / Boiling Point TV Limited
If you like The Bear, you need to watch Boiling Point. But if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, Boiling Point might hit too close to home. This unrelenting series, featuring several long uncut takes like its outstanding predecessor film, throws you into the kitchen and into the lives of an extremely busy restaurant — from the storeroom to the front of house. It’s a treat to watch even more of Stephen Graham and Vinette Robinson’s superb performances from the film extended into the series, and with a longer format, the show takes the film’s examination of mental health and addiction in the hospitality industry even further.
If you can’t stand the pressure, this will not be your show. But it’s a masterwork in choreography with brilliant performances that will make you deeply appreciate your next fancy meal.— S.C.
How to watch: Boiling Point is now streaming on BBC iPlayer in the UK, U.S. streaming date TBC.
5. Happy Valley, Season 3
Sarah Lancashire in the final season of “Happy Valley”.
Seven years since the events of Season 2, Sally Wainright’s bleak crime drama draws us back into the lives of Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) and the man responsible for her daughter’s death, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), currently in prison but still hanging over her family like a shadow.
“If you’ve seen the first two seasons, you’ll probably already know that Happy Valley isn’t for everyone,” I wrote in my Mashable review. “The combination of Wainright’s unflinching scripts, the raw emotion in the acting, and the dark themes being dealt with mean that Happy Valley can be a tough watch at the best of times. It’s a depressing and disturbing show, and Season 3 — with its themes of domestic violence — is no exception.
“But, like the first two seasons, there is light in there too. Wainright does an impressive job of sprinkling in moments of humour and levity throughout her scripts, and the actors have no problem introducing a few laughs alongside the tears and the pain. Ultimately, despite how heavy it is overall, the show’s core message is one of durability.” — Sam Haysom, UK Deputy Editor
4. Dreaming Whilst Black
Adjani Salmon and Dani Moseley in “Dreaming Whilst Black”.
Credit: BBC/Big Deal Films/Domizia Salusest
Co-created by and starring Adjani Salmon, Dreaming Whilst Black is one of the sharpest comedies of the year, honouring the slog of independent filmmaking in a predominantly white industry while skewering microaggressions in the workplace. First a web series, then an award-winning pilot commissioned by BBC Three, it’s a co-production between the BBC, Big Deal Films, and A24.
Over six episodes, Salmon shines in the lead as Kwabena Robinson, whose jobs in recruitment surrounded by horrendous coworkers and delivering food aren’t exactly his dream — making movies is, especially his short film Jamaica Road. When he reconnects with his film school pal Amy (Dani Moseley), she gives him the in he needs to get it off the ground, but he still needs funding (and rent money). The whole cast is superb, from Moseley as Amy enduring her own colleagues’ loaded bullshit and white fragility to Kemi Lofinmakin as the effervescent Aunty Lola, to Demmy Ladipo as Kwabena’s melodramatic cousin Maurice and Rachel Adedeji as his grounded wife Funmi going through pregnancy. The writing in this series is so perfectly excruciating and real you might gasp out loud, and there are moments of moving drama. And as this is a A24 project, there’s surrealism afoot. — S.C.
3. Heartstopper Season 2
Credit: Netflix / Samuel Dore
Netflix‘s adaptation of Alice Oseman’s beloved webcomic and graphic novel returned for a second season, reuniting you with Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor), who decided to make it official at the end of Season 1. Season 2, which aligns with Oseman’s third and fourth volumes, feels like a natural maturation of its characters. Charlie, Elle (Yasmin Finney), Tao (William Gao), and Isaac (Tobie Donovan) are no longer the “borderline outcasts” they felt like in Season 1, but are now part of a larger group of LGBTQ buddies, a gorgeous, supportive found family that make up the core cast. And together, they explore new relationships and crushes, dreaded school exams, an overseas excursion, the end of year prom, endure their complicated home lives, and navigate the complexities of coming out.* — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
How to watch: Heartstopper is now streaming on Netflix.
2. Am I Being Unreasonable?
Daisy May Cooper and Selin Hizli in “Am I Being Unreasonable?”.
Credit: Alistair Heap/BBC Studios/Boffola Pictures
Daisy May Cooper and Selin Hizli’s dramedy Am I Being Unreasonable? tells the story of Nic (Cooper), a mum balancing her difficult home life with intrusive memories of the sudden death of a man she was having an affair with. It’s tense, it’s funny, and there’s a healthy dose of mystery thriller and psychological horror mixed in there too for good measure.
“Am I Being Unreasonable? is juggling a lot of plates,” I wrote in my review for Mashable. “But it juggles them well, with the script weaving seamlessly between jokes and foreboding, heartfelt moments, as well as twists you don’t see coming. There are very few TV shows I’ve seen where I’ve laughed out loud and been hit with a genuinely unnerving jump scare in the same episode, but this is the kind of story Am I Being Unreasonable? tells.” — S.H.
1. Top Boy
Jasmine Jobson in “Top Boy”.
Credit: Ali Painter/Netflix
For over a decade, Top Boy has been one of the best British shows on TV, and the series finale pushes its complicated characters to the absolute limit. It’s the powerful, bloody end this masterpiece of a series deserves, as well as a deeply moving farewell to the fictional London estate Summerhouse. Directors Myriam Raja and William Stefan Smith do a masterful job of exploring the themes previously established by creator Ronan Bennett — family and criminality, police brutality and systemic racism, and much more — through nuanced characters and storylines.
Season 5 picks up after Season 4’s shocking finale, with teen Stefan (Araloyin Oshunremi) left grieving in the fallout, and anti-heroes and London drug dealers Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson, aka grime pioneer Kano) figuring out where their loyalties lie while trying to get out for good. When a rival Irish gang (led by Saltburn star Barry Keoghan and Bad Sisters‘ Brian Gleeson) arrives, everything’s on the table. Luckily, this final season really leaves no loose ends. Without a doubt, the women of Top Boy are the real core of the show, with superb performances from standout Jasmine Jobson, alongside Simbi Ajikawo (aka acclaimed rapper Little Simz) and Saffron Hocking.* — S.C.
How to watch: Top Boy is now streaming on Netflix.