Best TV: Aussie drama at a price
If you want to watch new Aussie drama, there is plenty of it but it now comes at a premium. Apart from ABC and SBS, free-to-air TV has largely abandoned local drama and comedy, preferring instead to make such shows for their streaming services. Many of these shows will eventually get a run on FTA, but until then, here are the ones you should be saving up for:
C*A*U*G*H*T (Stan) was the wildest and most original series of the year. Written and directed by actor Kick Gurry, an incredible Aussie cast assembled alongside A-list talent like Sean Penn playing Sean Penn, and Susan Sarandon as the US President.
I also highly recommend:
THE NEWSREADER Series 2 (iview)
AUSTRALIAN EPIC (iview)
THE ARTFUL DODGER (Disney+)
COLIN FROM ACCOUNTS (Binge)
RFDS Series 2 (Seven)
IN OUR BLOOD (iview)
LOVE ME Series 2 (Binge)
TEN POUND POMS (Stan)
2023 was a banner year for female creatives, and although some covered similar ground, one elevated its material with unexpected beauty and grace, while others went for laughs. Here are the best TV 2023 must-sees:
LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART and DEADLOCH (Prime) proved to be a double whammy for Amazon’s streaming service. Lost Flowers took tough subject matter and infused it with hope, while Deadloch garnered a devoted fan base who loved the funny murder mystery.
Also worth checking out:
BAY OF FIRES (iview)
WHILE THE MEN ARE AWAY (SBS On Demand)
BLACK SNOW (Stan)
SAFE HOME (SBS On Demand)
PAPER DOLLS (Paramount+)
THE APPLETON LADIES POTATO RACE (10Play)
TOTALLY COMPLETELY FINE (Stan)
GOLD DIGGERS (iview)
True crime still pays
Despite having already had an entire UNDERBELLY about him, Sydney identity John Ibrahim was immortalised yet again in LAST KING OF THE CROSS (Paramount+) and despite the Deja vu, viewers lapped it up. THE CLEARING (Disney+) took the three-part documentary THE CULT OF THE FAMILY (Stan) and turned it into a dreary eight-part drama that failed to shed any new light. Similarly, WARNIE (9Now) had nothing new to say about cricket legend Shane Warne, and this rushed biopic proved to be a huge waste of time.
Reality is eating itself alive from the inside, and desperate networks are wasting millions of dollars by commissioning dopey formats doomed to failure. BLOW-UP (Seven) was LEGO MASTERS but with balloons, MILLION DOLLAR ISLAND was SURVIVOR but with more contestants, and RUSH was THE AMAZING RACE but with blindfolds. Even BIG BROTHER tried to ape LOVE ISLAND and their viewership was as scant as all the other flops.
The best international TV of 2023
NOLLY (Binge) was my favourite drama of the year, because it was an untold story about a forgotten TV icon, played to perfection by Helena Bonham Carter. I had no idea that Noelle Gordon was so beloved, nor did I realise that the budget soap she starred in, CROSSROADS, was regularly the number one rating show in the UK. This three-part series is gorgeous from start to finish.
Horror movie right there on my TV
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (Netflix), from creator Mike Flanagan, used the same cast from his other hit shows, MIDNIGHT MASS and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. This time he took an Edgar Allen Poe story and placed it within a morally repugnant family living off the proceeds of opioid addiction. The desired effect was that the audience was begging for them all to meet gruesome ends – and they did!
DEAD RINGERS (Prime) did a gender switch on the twin gynaecologists from David Cronenberg’s 1988 cult movie, and Rachel Weisz could not have been more brilliant in playing them. Turning the original two-hour film into a six-hour series fleshed out the story with even more unimaginably horrific details, but it worked a treat. Sadly, the same can’t be said about FATAL ATTRACTION (Paramount+).
THE LONG SHADOW (Stan) and THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT (Binge) sensitively avoided unnecessary gore when turning real-life crimes into devastating dramas. Two of the best performances of the year can be found here, with Katherine Kelly in the first show breaking our heart as a mother turning to prostitution, and then Timothy Spall falling victim to a despicable con man in the second one.
2023 was a good year for nail-biting dramas and dodgy behaviour. BEEF (Netflix) was the best TV about a road rage incident that spun wildly out of control, while HIJACK (Apple TV+) played out in real-time as Idris Elba tried to outsmart the bad guys on an international flight. FAR NORTH (Paramount+) was a drug smuggling shitshow, but with deadpan Kiwi humour, THE BEAR Series 2 broke new ground with an explosive cameo-laden Christmas episode, and I LOVE SUZIE Series 2 (Stan) saw washed-up pop star Susie Pickles (Billie Piper) having a breakdown live on TV in a devastating takedown of reality talent contests.
SCHMIGADOON Series 2 (Apple TV+) moved to the darker city vibe of SCHMICAGO as it successfully sent up musicals of the 70s like Jesus Christ Superstar and Cabaret. If you haven’t seen the first series, doing the same to 50s musicals, get onto this immediately! BUPKIS (Binge) saw Pete Davidson hilariously re-creating disasters from his own life, with moving moments and laughs from co-stars Edie Falco and Joe Pesci. Meanwhile, SMOTHERED (Binge) and THE LOVERS (Binge) proved that the Brits are the current kings of TV romcoms, with both series finding new ways to tell old stories and worthy of spots in our best TV review.
FUNNY WOMAN (Binge) and MINX Series 2 (Stan) went back to the 60s and 70s for some hilarious revisionist history, but the sweetest and funniest double bill of the year was the HBO hour that put together SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE Series 2 (Binge) and THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES Series 3 (Binge). Both of these shows are flying under the radar, but check them out this summer because they are a guaranteed good time.
I did it my way
The biggest trend in documentaries this year was celebrities telling their own stories via Netflix, rather than letting somebody else make their own version. BECKHAM and WHAM! were standouts, while ARNOLD, SLY and BEING ROBBIE WILLIAMS gave fans plenty of juicy revelations. Also worth a look was THE SUPER MODELS (Apple TV), and the incredible legacy of Mary Tyler Moore in BEING MTM (Binge).
The best docuseries of the year, however, was REFRAMED: MARILY MONROE (SBS On Demand) which finally looked at the achievements of this underrated and ground-breaking actor/producer, rather than focusing on those tired cliches about her sex life and drug addiction.
Coming to an end
Some of our favourite shows finished in 2023, and most of them went out with dignity. SUCCESSION (Binge) was the most talked about, but THE CROWN (Netflix) was the most criticised as it strayed into dubious territory with ghosts (but Elizabeth Debicki was brilliant as Diana, as was Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret). THE MARVELLOUS MRS MAISEL (Prime) was hugely ambitious as it went out doing lots of flash-forwards, while brilliantly recreating a 60s late-night talk show. TED LASSO (Apple TV+), SEX EDUCATION (Netflix) and THE L WORLD: GENERATION Q (Stan) all left fans wanting more (never say never), and HAPPY VALLEY (Binge) had perfect closure and another perfect performance from Sarah Lancashire.
There was nothing more devastating, however, than the finale of FELLOW TRAVELERS (Paramount+) as the political history gay romance drama hurtled to its inevitable conclusion in the era of AIDS.
Worst show of the year
Ant Best TV list should have a Worst TV element. THE IDOL (Binge) cost $75 million to make. And I could give you 75 million reasons not to watch it, but it doesn’t deserve another word of publicity.
Listen to the two episodes of the TV Gold podcast listing the best shows of 2023 as chosen by Mediaweek’s Andrew Mercado and James Manning with special guest, TV Tonight’s David Knox.