‘The Last of Us’
Starring: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey
HBO’s adaptation of Naughty Dog’s highly acclaimed and much-loved post-apocalyptic video-game franchise was one of the year’s most hotly anticipated releases — and also the one that seemed most likely to immediately incur online wrath if it wasn’t great. Thankfully, it was great. Fans’ initial concerns over the casting of Pascal and Ramsey as the main protagonists — broken, world-weary smuggler Joel and his ‘cargo,’ a young girl called Ellie who is mysteriously immune to the fungal infection that has turned the majority of mankind into zombie-like monsters — proved to be unfounded: their chemistry was a major part of the show’s success. Watching Joel and Ellie’s father-daughter-style relationship unfold on their road trip across the US was truly moving and grounded the show’s fantastical elements in reality. Season two can’t come soon enough.
Starring: Ali Wong, Steven Yeun
The fact that “Beef” appeared with so little fanfare suggests that either (a) the creators were so sure of its brilliance that they didn’t think it needed marketing, or (b) the execs at Netflix really had no idea how good it was. Korean director Lee Sung Jin’s comedy drama focused on the conflict between struggling contractor Danny Cho (Yeun) and tightly wound entrepreneur Amy Lau (Wong), initially sparked by a road-rage incident that quickly escalates into an all-consuming obsession with ruining each other’s lives. Yeun and Wong were both fantastic throughout, and the show managed to be both hugely funny and horribly sad.
Starring: Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin
The (deserving) critical darling of the past five years, “Succession” reached its climax in a suitably bleak fourth season that saw the Roy family continue to tear itself apart as the children of patriarch Logan pitched themselves against each other to become the successor’s to their father’s global entertainment empire. As always, Jesse Armstrong’s satirical radar was spot-on, and the main cast once again somehow pulled off the trick of making these entirely unlikeable characters engaging. Its ending has left a big hole to fill for HBO.
Starring: Rebecca Ferguson, David Oyelowo, Common, Tim Robbins
Like “Beef,” this dystopian sci-fi drama about a community living in an enormous underground 144-level silo, supposedly because the air outside is immediately fatal to humans, arrived with little fanfare. “Silo” was tense and engaging throughout, and treated the audience with respect — eschewing exposition to better maintain momentum. Ferguson was compelling as Juliette Nichols, an engineer who becomes the silo’s unwilling sheriff and is working to unravel the mystery of the structure’s origins and purpose. Robbins was also excellent as a manipulative mayor. “This is one dystopian world that you’ll want to revisit,” our review concluded.
Starring: Bridget Everett, Jeff Hiller, Mary Catherine Garrison
This bittersweet comedy drama about a lonely, somewhat lost, 40-something woman returning to her home town and struggling with grief after the death of her beloved sister is one of the most understated shows on television. It may have a huge array of flamboyant characters, but the cast never overplay their scenes, instead happy to do their bit to ensure the story remains the star. Each episode can make you cry with laughter and sorrow within moments of each other. It’s a show full of heart.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Jack London, Kristin Scott Thomas
At the time of writing, the third season of this UK spy thriller still has one episode to go, but the finale would have to be an unmitigated disaster for “Slow Horses” not to merit its place on this list. Each episode is gripping, thanks to the dark humor, political satire (the venal minister Peter Judd wouldn’t seem out of place in the actual British government), edge-of-your-seat action, and Oldman at the top of his game as Jackson Lamb, a former secret-service great whose job now involves overseeing the misfits and miscreants of Slough House — where MI5 sends the agents it wants to forget about (to whom the titular nickname applies).
‘Only Murders in the Building’
Starring: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez
Season three of the comedy mystery was arguably its strongest yet. The trio of protagonists continue to share enviable chemistry, and were joined by some serious big hitters, including Meryl Streep (superb as an undiscovered musical-theater actress) and Paul Rudd, as the spoiled A-lister heading to Broadway. The showrunners really upped the ante on the silliness levels too, with creepy hallucinations and impromptu musical numbers. But for all its goofiness, “Only Murders” never forgets its “mystery” side, nor its human side. And, as usual, it looked amazing.
Starring: Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Last year’s surprise TV package — about a hugely talented young chef, Carmen Berzatto, returning home to manage his late brother’s rundown sandwich shop — managed to live up to its newfound fame in season two. It took all the first season’s finest ingredients — the claustrophobic stress of the kitchen, the tension between Carmen and his late brother’s best friend Richie, the superbly written and acted dialogue, the stellar direction — and combined them with a touch of real flair and the confidence that comes from having earned so many accolades first time out. Shout out to Jamie Lee Curtis, too, for her astonishing turn as the Berzatto matriarch.