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The 10 Best TV Episodes of 2023

A stylish Hitchcock homage, a tender exploration of autism and a hilariously horny holiday special were among favorites of THR's TV critics.

Unlike a movie, a TV show is not generally meant to be consumed in a single sitting. It is, at least in theory, designed to be enjoyed episode by episode. So having already celebrated the best series of the year (and the best TV performances), we’re here now to highlight a few individual chapters that particularly stood out to us from our hundreds and hundreds of hours of viewing.

As a rule, we excluded any title that had already made either of our individual top 10s. (Sorry, Richie episode of The Bear. And “Long, Long Time” from The Last of Us. And half this season of Succession. Half this season of Reservation Dogs. And, and, and …) This was in part to save ourselves the trouble of singing praises we’ve already sung so many times before, but mostly in an effort to spread the love. For the same reasons, we limited ourselves to one episode per series.

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And as always, even as we picked our favorites, we mourned all those installments we simply didn’t have room for. If you don’t see your pick here, feel free to assume it only barely missed the cut. Hey, there’s a non-zero chance it’s true.

Here are 10 episodes that shocked us, delighted us, moved us or otherwise simply made us react in the way that only the best of the small screen can.

“it takes a psycho,” Barry (HBO)
The time jump of “tricky legacies” might be the most jarring shock of Barry‘s last season, but its biggest gut punch lands one episode earlier. “it takes a psycho” sees Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) snuff out his entire team of men, and then, when Cristobal (Michael Irby) decides he cannot stomach the choice Hank has made, wail and beg and weep but ultimately stand by as Cristobal is killed. As the formerly lovable gangster coldly informs the love of his life that it was “unrealistic” to ever dream they could escape this bloodshed — and as Sally (Sarah Goldberg) comes to much the same conclusion about her movie-star aspirations on the set of a mega-budget blockbuster directed, in a note-perfect cameo, by CODA‘s Sian Heder — Barry sets the stage for its take-no-prisoners endgame. — ANGIE HAN

“ISO,” Bupkis (Peacock)
Take away the pointlessly coarse and thoroughly unfunny pilot and Peacock’s Bupkis had a Top 10-worthy first season, with a collection of near-standalones that were pointedly coarse and quite funny. You might prefer the ridiculous Fast & Furious-inspired “Crispytown,” featuring a scene-stealing Simon Rex, or the arty, rehab-set “Show Me the Way,” but no Bupkis episode captured the sad, lonely, weirdly amusing essence of Pete Davidson’s unique brand of car-wreck fame as well as “ISO.” In a Christmas-themed episode, Pete’s isolation on the Canadian set of a war movie leads him toward relapses of all of his vices, as he slowly and initially imperceptibly drifts into madness. It’s probably Davidson’s best acting in the series, it uses its key celebrity cameos well, and it illustrates the emotional range that the show developed as it progressed. — DANIEL FIENBERG

“Met Gala,” Dave (FXX)
An underrated aspect of FXX’s Dave is how well this frequently puerile show about a rapper and his small penis does by its female characters. The third season had a superb season-long arc with Chloe Bennet, a great one-episode guest appearance from Jane Levy and, perhaps best of all, a multi-episode run featuring Rachel McAdams playing herself. McAdams is introduced in the ridiculously star-studded and generally ridiculous “Met Gala” episode, which combines the outsized performativity of Dave Bird’s Lil Dicky character with the outsized performativity of, yes, the Met Gala with hilarious results. As charmingly and effortlessly likable as this version of cool-girl Rachel McAdams is, she’s just part of the cavalcade of effective cameos including an extremely funny confrontation between Lil Dicky and Jack Harlow. This is celebrity superficiality at its most hilarious. — D.F.

“A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special,” Harley Quinn (Max)
Of all Harley Quinn‘s lovably tweaked versions of established DC characters, few are more pathetic, or more hilarious, than James Adomian’s Bane — and rarely has Bane been sadder or funnier than in “A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special.” A potent combination of loneliness, insecurity and misapplied sex magic turns him into a rampaging monster humping his way to the center of Gotham City … all while Ted Lasso‘s Brett Goldstein holds court with passages from Lord Byron (a.k.a. “the Brett Goldstein of the 19th century”) and Clayface (Alan Tudyk) falls in love with his own ass. And all of this somehow feeds into a sincerely moving storyline about what Harley (Kaley Cuoco) and Ivy (Lake Bell) mean to each other. Only Harley Quinn could pull off a combination that bananas, and make it feel so right. — A.H.

“How to Watch Birds,” How To With John Wilson (HBO)
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering how much of How To With John Wilson could possibly be real — because come on, this bit of B-roll or that outrageous twist must be too perfect to be true, right? — the series’ penultimate entry tackles that question head on. In typical fashion, it begins as an exploration of bird-watching before veering sideways into a larger rumination on the importance of honesty, and then flipping yet again into a meta examination of the truths and untruths embedded within the show itself. The conspiracy thriller woven into the episode is clearly made up and the explosion obviously staged, but like all the best John Wilson episodes, it gets at something that feels genuine — no matter how manipulated we now know malfunctioning-toilet footage to be. — A.H.

“Jack Botty’s Delayed Post-Pandemic Surprise Party,” Party Down (Starz)
Party Down‘s first episode back did the necessary work of reuniting the gang. Party Down‘s second episode back proved they haven’t missed a step. “Jack Botty’s Delayed Post-Pandemic Surprise Party” skewers self-involved Hollywood types (with James Marsden playing a movie star who’s not unlike the James Marsden of Jury Duty), but reserves its biggest laughs for its core cast. There’s Henry (Adam Scott) charming a new lady (Jennifer Garner) with his dry wit, and Kyle (Ryan Hansen) wildly misunderstanding the term “moonlighting.” There’s new server Sackson (Tyrel Jackson Williams) confounding his coworkers with his Gen Z clout-chasing, and new chef Lucy (Zoë Chao) explaining that her cake bites are supposed to taste foul (“It’s a rumination on mortality!”). And, as always, there’s Ken Marino’s Ron suffering one acute humiliation after another in order to keep this entire questionable operation running. — A.H.

“The Orpheus Syndrome,” Poker Face (Peacock)
One of the great pleasures of Poker Face is the way it embeds itself in a whole new world with each case, complete with its own rules, its own cast, its own vibe. But nowhere do its aesthetic and narrative goals merge more fully than in “The Orpheus Syndrome.” Directed and cowritten by Natasha Lyonne, the episode sees her Charlie strike up a friendship with VFX vet Arthur (Nick Nolte), and subsequently get involved in a murder mystery whose roots go back to a botched 1989 film production. Paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock and ’80s B-movies (and described by series creator Rian Johnson as a “love letter” to effects legend Phil Tippet), the episode culminates in a film exec (Cherry Jones) undertaking a nightmarish journey through an exhibit come to life via stop motion. Even by the standards of a show renowned for its gorgeous ’70s-inspired aesthetic — a show that averaged at least one death per episode — “The Orpheus Syndrome” stands out as one of its most gorgeously macabre. — A.H.

“The Quiet Zone,” Welcome to Wrexham (FX)
In its first season, FX’s Welcome to Wrexham approached the need for filler episodes by leaning into the star power of Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds; it was a portrait of a bromance as much as of a soccer team. The even better second season opted to use those match-light episodes to dig deeper into the lives of the Wrexham crew, producing multiple highlights including the episodes dedicated to the Wrexham women’s team, who got a deserved spotlight. But my favorite episode, one that tugged at my heartstrings throughout, was “The Quiet Zone.” It’s built around two parallel stories: one focusing on Wrexham superfan Millie, whose devotion to the team aided in her socialization after she was diagnosed with autism; and the other looking at star player Paul Mullin, and his journey to understand his own son’s autism diagnosis. It’s a beautiful depiction of the connection between the community and the team and I may or may not have teared up multiple times. — D.F.

“Hybrid Creatures,” What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
The fifth season of FX’s What We Do in the Shadows was, once again, awash in standout episodes, especially those focused on Harvey Guillén’s Guillermo, whose internal conflict over having been made partially vampiric behind Nandor’s (Kayvan Novak) back put the character at the narrative forefront. “Local News,” with Guillermo forgetting his grandmother’s birthday while trying to reveal his secret to the family, was great, but no 2023 episode made me snort-laugh as aggressively as “Hybrid Creatures,” written by Jeremy Levick and Rajat Suresh and directed by Kyle Newacheck. The reveal of Laszlo’s (Matt Berry) genetic experiments mixing Guillermo’s blood with that of stray animals, and the eponymous monstrosities it created, gave the show’s visual effects team and prosthetics designer Paul Jones an opportunity to shine. And shine they did, with each hybrid more grotesque, funny and sad than the one before. — D.F.

“Edible Complex,” Yellowjackets (Showtime)
In an up-and-down second season, Yellowjackets sometimes struggled with the need to give the audience what it wanted and the desire to spend a lot of time at a cult commune with Simone Kessell’s grown-up Lottie. In general, I found the flashback parts of the story much more satisfying than the uneven present-day threads, and no episode was more satisfying or better captured the show at its absolutely bonkers peak than “Edible Complex,” in which… That Thing Viewers Had Been Waiting For Since the Pilot finally happened and answered a lot of residual questions involving how one might best sous-vide a plane crash survivor. This was Yellowjackets at its most deliriously gonzo, and deliriously gonzo Yellowjackets — embodied in the present day by Christina Ricci’s performance — is my favorite Yellowjackets. — D.F.