The 15 Best New TV Shows of 2023

A smart and hilarious Australian murder-mystery, a spectacular game-to-screen adaptation and a body-horror gem: they all left an imprint on the small screen this year.
Sarah Ward
December 18, 2023

On the small screen, 2023 started by showing the world exactly how a beloved video game should be turned into a television series. By the time the year had reached its midpoint, it had delivered one of the best TV murder-mysteries ever, which is also a smart and savvy comedy. Now that 2024 is almost upon us, a gorgeous anime take on a comic and big-screen favourite has proven a late-in-the-year delight. So, as the best new TV shows of 2023 illustrate, no one can say that there hasn't been anything new to watch over the past 12 months.

This year's television slate also gave viewers a subversive social satire, a David Cronenberg body-horror masterpiece turned into TV and a calming show about friendship in Japan. They're all among the best of the top brand-new arrivals, as are an eat-the-rich horror gem, a telemarketing true tale that has to be seen to be believed and a side-splitting history-of-the-world mockumentary.

Here's an even better piece of news: not only has the past year been exceptional for television, but summer is a glorious time to reflect, revisit and, if you need to, work through your catch-up list. After filling 2023 viewing and rounding up TV highlights — and first selecting the must-sees midyear — we've now whittled down the results of all that couch time to the 15 best small-screen newcomers.

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DEADLOCH

Trust Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, Australia's favourite Kates and funniest double act, to make a killer TV show about chasing a killer that's the perfect sum of two excellent halves. Given their individual and shared backgrounds, including creating and starring in cooking show sendup The Katering Show and morning television spoof Get Krack!n, the pair unsurprisingly add another reason to get chuckling to their resumes; however, with Deadloch, they also turn their attention to crime procedurals. The Kates already know how to make viewers laugh. They've established their talents as brilliant satirists and lovers of the absurd in the process. Now, splashing around those skills in Deadloch's exceptional eight-episode first season lead by Kate Box (Stateless) and Madeleine Sami (The Breaker Upperers), they've also crafted a dead-set stellar murder-mystery series that ranks among The Kates' best work in almost every way. The only time that it doesn't? Not putting the tremendous pair on-screen themselves.

Taking place in a sleepy small town, commencing with a body on a beach, and following both the local cop trying to solve the case and the gung-ho blow-in from a big city leading the enquiries, Deadloch has all the crime genre basics covered from the get-go. The Tasmanian spot scandalised by the death is a sitcom-esque quirky community, another television staple that McCartney and McLennan nail. Parody requires deep knowledge and understanding; you can't comically rip into and riff on something if you aren't familiar with its every in and out. That said, Deadloch isn't in the business of simply mining well-worn TV setups and their myriad of conventions for giggles, although it does that expertly. With whip-smart writing, the Australian series is intelligent, hilarious, and all-round cracking as a whodunnit-style noir drama and as a comedy alike — and, as Box's by-the-book Senior Sergeant Dulcie Collins and Sami's loose and chaotic Darwin blow-in Eddie Redcliffe are forced to team up, it's also one of the streaming highlights of the year.

Deadloch streams via Prime Video. Read our full review, and our interview with Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan.

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I'M A VIRGO

No one makes social satires like Boots Riley. Late in I'm a Virgo, when a character proclaims that "all art is propaganda", these words may as well be coming from The Coup frontman-turned-filmmaker's very own lips. In only his second screen project after the equally impassioned, intelligent, energetic, anarchic and exceptional 2018 film Sorry to Bother You, Riley doesn't have his latest struggling and striving hero utter this sentiment, however. Rather, it springs from the billionaire technology mogul also known as The Hero (Walton Goggins, George & Tammy), who's gleefully made himself the nemesis of 13-foot-tall series protagonist Cootie (Jharrel Jerome, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse). Knowing that all stories make a statement isn't just the domain of activists fighting for better futures for the masses, as Riley is, and he wants to ensure that his audience knows it. Indeed, I'm a Virgo is a show with something to say, and forcefully. Its creator is angry again, too, and wants everyone giving him their time to be bothered — and he still isn't sorry for a second.

With Jerome as well-cast a lead as Atlanta's Lakeith Stanfield was the last time that Riley was behind the lens, I'm a Virgo also hinges upon a surreal central detail: instead of a Black telemarketer discovering the impact of his "white voice", it hones in on the oversized Cootie. When it comes to assimilation, consider this series Sorry to Bother You's flipside, because there's no way that a young Black man that's more than double the tallest average height is passing for anyone but himself. Riley knows that Black men are too often seen as threats and targets regardless of their stature anyway. He's read the research showing that white folks can perceive Black boys as older and less innocent. As Cootie wades through these experiences himself, there isn't a single aspect of I'm a Virgo that doesn't convey Riley's ire at the state of the world — that doesn't virtually scream about it, actually — with this series going big and bold over and over.

I'm a Virgo streams via Prime Video. Read our full review.

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DEAD RINGERS

Twin gynaecologists at the top of their game. Blood-red costuming and bodily fluids. The kind of perturbing mood that seeing flesh as a source of horror does and must bring. An exquisite eye for stylish yet unsettling imagery. Utterly impeccable lead casting. When 1988's Dead Ringers hit cinemas, it was with this exact combination, all in the hands of David Cronenberg following Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly. He took inspiration from real-life siblings Stewart and Cyril Marcus, whose existence was fictionalised in 1977 novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, and turned it into something spectacularly haunting. Attempting to stitch together those parts again, this time without the Crimes of the Future filmmaker at the helm — and as a miniseries, too — on paper seems as wild a feat as some of modern medicine's biggest advancements. This time starring a phenomenal Rachel Weisz as both Beverly and Elliot Mantle, and birthed by Lady Macbeth and The Wonder screenwriter Alice Birch, Dead Ringers 2.0 is indeed an achievement. It's also another masterpiece.

Playing the gender-swapped roles that Jeremy Irons (House of Gucci) inhabited so commandingly 35 years back, Weisz (Black Widow) is quiet, calm, dutiful, sensible and yearning as Beverly, then volatile, outspoken, blunt, reckless and rebellious as Elliot. Her performance as each is that distinct — that fleshed-out as well — that it leaves viewers thinking they're seeing double. Of course, technical trickery is also behind the duplicate portrayals, with directors Sean Durkin (The Nest), Karena Evans (Snowfall), Lauren Wolkstein (The Strange Ones) and Karyn Kusama's (Destroyer) behind the show's lens; however, Weisz is devastatingly convincing. Beverly is also the patient-facing doctor of the two, helping usher women into motherhood, while Elliot prefers tinkering in a state-of-the-art lab trying to push the boundaries of fertility. Still, the pair are forever together or, with unwitting patients and dates alike, swapping places and pretending to be each other. Most folks in their company don't know what hit them, which includes actor Genevieve (Britne Oldford, The Umbrella Academy), who segues from a patient to Beverly's girlfriend — and big-pharma billionaire Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle, She Said), who Dead Ringers' weird sisters court to fund their dream birthing centre.

Dead Ringers streams via Prime Video. Read our full review.

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THE LAST OF US

If the end of the world comes, or a parasitic fungus evolves via climate change, spreads globally, infests brains en masse and almost wipes out humanity, spectacular video game-to-TV adaptation The Last of Us will have you wanting Pedro Pascal in your corner. Already a standout in Game of Thrones, then Narcos, then The Mandalorian, he's perfectly cast in HBO's blockbuster series — a character-driven show that ruminates on what it means to not just survive but to want to live and thrive after the apocalypse. In this smart and gripping series (one that's thankfully already been renewed for season two, too), he plays Joel. Dad to teenager Sarah (Nico Parker, The Third Day), he's consumed by grief and loss after what starts as a normal day, and his birthday, changes everything for everyone. Twenty years later, he's a smuggler tasked with tapping into his paternal instincts to accompany a different young girl, the headstrong Ellie (Bella Ramsey, Catherine Called Birdy), on a perilous but potentially existence-saving trip across the US.

Starting to watch The Last of Us, or even merely describing it, is an instant exercise in déjà vu. Whether or not you've played the hit game since it first arrived in 2013, or its 2014 expansion pack, 2020 sequel or 2022 remake, its nine-part TV iteration ventures where plenty of on-screen fare including The Road and The Walking Dead has previously trodden. The best example that springs to mind during The Last of Us is Station Eleven, however, which is the heartiest of compliments given how thoughtful, empathetic and textured that 2021–22 series proved. As everything about pandemics, contagions and diseases that upend the world order now does, The Last of Us feels steeped in stone-cold reality as well, as spearheaded by a co-creator, executive producer, writer and director who has already turned an IRL doomsday into stunning television with Chernobyl. That creative force is Craig Mazin, teaming up with Neil Druckmann from Naughty Dog, who also wrote and directed The Last of Us games.

The Last of Us streams via Neon. Read our full review, and our interview with Melanie Lynskey.

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THE MAKANAI: COOKING FOR THE MAIKO HOUSE

At the beginning of The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House, 16-year-old best friends Kiyo (Nana Mori, Liar x Liar) and Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi, Silent Parade) leave home for the first time with smiles as wide as their hearts are open. Departing the rural Aomari for Kyoto in the thick of winter, they have internships as maiko lined up — apprentice geiko, as geishas are called in the Kyoto dialect. Their path to their dearest wishes isn't all sunshine and cherry blossoms from there, of course, but this is a series that lingers on the details, on slices of life, and on everyday events rather than big dramatic developments. Watch, for instance, how lovingly Kiyo and Sumire's last meal is lensed before they set out for their new future, and how devotedly the camera surveys the humble act of sitting down to share a dumpling soup, legs tucked beneath blankets under the table, while having an ordinary conversation. Soothing, tender, compassionate, bubbling with warmth: that's The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House from the outset.

There's a key reason that this cosy and comforting new treasure overflows with such affection and understanding — for its characters, their lives and just the act of living. Prolific writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda simply isn't capable of anything else. Yes, Netflix has been in the auteur game of late, and The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is unmistakably the work of its rightly applauded creative force. One of the biggest names in Japanese cinema today, and the winner of the received Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or back in 2018 for the sublime Shoplifters, Kore-eda makes empathetic, rich and deeply emotional works. His movies, including the France-set The Truth and South Korea-set Broker, truly see the people within their frames. On the small screen, and hailing from manga, the nine-episode The Makanai is no different. It's also as calming as a show about friendships, chasing dreams and devouring ample dumplings can and should be.

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House streams via Netflix.

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FULL CIRCLE

Whether on screens big and small, when an audience watches a Steven Soderbergh project, they're watching one of America's great current directors ply his full range of filmmaking skills. Usually, he doesn't just helm. Going by Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard — aliases from his parents' names — he shoots and edits as well. And he's prolific: since advising that he'd retire from making features after Side Effects, he's directed, lensed and spliced nine more, plus three TV shows. Among those titles sit movies such as Logan Lucky, Unsane, Kimi and Magic Mike's Last Dance; the exceptional two seasons of turn-of-the-20th-century medical drama The Knick; and now New York-set kidnapping miniseries Full Circle. The filmmaker who won Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or at 26 for Sex, Lies and Videotape, earned two Best Director Oscars in one year for Traffic and Erin Brockovich, brought the Ocean's franchise back to cinemas in 2001, and eerily predicted the COVID-19 pandemic with 2011's Contagion is in his element with his latest work. Six-part noir-influenced thriller Full Circle reunites Soderbergh with Mosaic and No Sudden Move screenwriter Ed Solomon, boasts a starry cast, involves money and secrets and deception, and proves a twisty and layered crime tale from the get-go.

Full Circle starts with a murder, then a revenge plot, then a missing smartphone. These early inclusions all tie into an intricate narrative that will indeed demonstrate inevitability, cause and effect, the repercussions of our actions, and decisions looping back around. The pivotal death forms part of a turf war, sparking a campaign of retaliation by Queens-based Guyanese community leader and insurance scammer Savitri Mahabir (CCH Pounder, Avatar: The Way of Water). She enlists freshly arrived teens Xavier (Sheyi Cole, Atlanta) and Louis (Gerald Jones, Armageddon Time) to do the seizing under her nephew Aked's (Jharrel Jerome, I'm a Virgo) supervision; one of the newcomers is the brother of the latter's fiancée Natalia (Adia, The Midnight Club), who is also Savitri's masseuse. The target: Manhattan high-schooler Jared (Ethan Stoddard, Mysteries at the Museum), son of the wealthy and privileged Sam (Claire Danes, Fleishman Is in Trouble) and Derek Browne (Timothy Olyphant, Daisy Jones & The Six), and grandson through Sam to ponytailed celebrity chef Jeff McCusker (Dennis Quaid, Strange World). Savitri is convinced that this is the only way to stave off the curse she's certain is hanging over her business — a "broken circle", in fact. But, much to the frustration of the US Postal Inspection Service's Manny Broward (Jim Gaffigan, Peter Pan & Wendy), his go-for-broke agent Melody Harmony (Zazie Beetz, Black Mirror) is already investigating before the abduction.

Full Circle streams via Neon. Read our full review.

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RAIN DOGS

In 2019's Skint Estate, Cash Carraway told all; A memoir of poverty, motherhood and survival completes the book's full title. Penned about working-class Britain from within working-class Britain, Carraway's written jaunt through her own life steps through the reality of being a single mum without a permanent place to live, of struggling to get by at every second, and of being around the system since she was a teenager. It examines alcoholism, loneliness, mental illness and domestic violence, too, plus refuges, working at peep shows, getting groceries from food banks and hopping between whatever temporary accommodation is available. Rain Dogs isn't a direct adaptation. It doesn't purport to bring Carraway's experiences to the screen exactly as they happened, or with slavish fidelity to the specific details. But this HBO and BBC eight-parter remains not only raw, rich, honest and authentic but lived in, as it tells the same story with candour, humour, warmth and poignancy.

Slipping into Carraway's fictionalised shoes is Daisy May Cooper — and she's outstanding. Her on-screen resume includes Avenue 5 and Am I Being Unreasonable?, as well as being a team captain on the latest iteration of Britain's Spicks and Specks-inspiring Never Mind the Buzzcocks, but she's a force to be reckoned with as aspiring writer and mum (to Iris, played by debutant Fleur Tashjian) Costello Jones. When Rain Dogs begins, it's with an eviction. Cooper lives and breathes determination as Costello then scrambles to find somewhere for her and Iris to stay next. But this isn't just their tale, with the pair's lives intersecting with the privileged but self-destructive Selby (Jack Farthing, Spencer), who completes their unconventional and dysfunctional family but tussles with his mental health. Including Costello's best friend Gloria (Ronke Adekoluejo, Alex Rider), plus ailing artist Lenny (The Young Ones legend Adrian Edmondson), this is a clear-eyed look at chasing a place to belong — and it's remarkable.

Rain Dogs streams via Neon. Read our full review.

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SILO

Rebecca Ferguson will never be mistaken for Daveed Diggs, but the Dune, Mission: Impossible franchise and Doctor Sleep star now follows in the Hamilton Tony-winner's footsteps. While he has spent multiple seasons navigating dystopian class clashes on a globe-circling train in the TV version of Snowpiercer, battling his way up and down the titular locomotive, she just started ascending and descending the stairs in the underground chamber that gives Silo its moniker. Ferguson's character is also among humanity's last remnants. Attempting to endure in post-apocalyptic times, she hails from her abode's lowliest depths as well. And, when there's a murder in this instantly engrossing new ten-part series — which leaps to the screen from Hugh Howey's novels, and shares a few basic parts with Metropolis, Blade Runner and The Platform, as well as corrupt world orders at the core of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner flicks —  she's soon playing detective.

Silo captivates from the outset, when its focus is the structure's sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo, See How They Run) and his wife Allison (Rashida Jones, On the Rocks). Both know the cardinal rule of the buried tower, as does deputy Marnes (Will Patton, Outer Range), mayor Ruth (Geraldine James, Benediction), security head Sims (Common, The Hate U Give), IT top brass Bernard (Tim Robbins, Dark Waters) and the other 10,000 souls they live with: if you make the request to go outside, it's irrevocable and you'll be sent there as punishment. No matter who you are, and from which level, anyone posing such a plea becomes a public spectacle. Their ask is framed as "cleaning", referring to wiping down the camera that beams the desolate planet around them onto window-sized screens in their cafeterias. No one has ever come back, or survived for more than minutes. Why? Add that to the questions piling up not just for Silo's viewers, but for the silo's residents. For more than 140 years, the latter have dwelled across their 144 floors in safety from the bleak wasteland that earth has become — but what caused that destruction and who built their cavernous home are among the other queries.

Silo streams via Apple TV+. Read our full review.

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BEEF

As plenty does, Beef starts with two strangers meeting, but there's absolutely nothing cute about it. Sparks don't fly and hearts don't flutter; instead, this pair grinds each other's gears. In a case of deep and passionate hate at first sight, Danny Cho (Steven Yeun, Nope) and Amy Lau (Ali Wong, Paper Girls) give their respective vehicles' gearboxes a workout, in fact, after he begins to pull out of a hardware store carpark, she honks behind him, and lewd hand signals and terse words are exchanged. Food is thrown, streets are angrily raced down, gardens are ruined, accidents are barely avoided, and the name of Vin Diesel's famous car franchise springs to mind, aptly describing how bitterly these two strangers feel about each other — and how quickly. Created by Lee Sung Jin, who has It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dave and Silicon Valley on his resume before this ten-part Netflix and A24 collaboration, Beef also commences with a simple, indisputable and deeply relatable fact. Whether you're a struggling contractor hardly making ends meet, as he is, or a store-owning entrepreneur trying to secure a big deal, as she is — or, if you're both, neither or anywhere in-between — pettiness reigning supreme is basic human nature.

Danny could've just let Amy beep as much as she liked, then waved, apologised and driven away. Amy could've been more courteous about sounding her horn, and afterwards. But each feels immediately slighted by the other, isn't willing to stand for such an indignity and becomes consumed by their trivial spat. Neither takes the high road, not once — and if you've ever gotten irrationally irate about a minor incident, this new standout understands. Episode by episode, it sees that annoyance fester and exasperation grow, too. Beef spends its run with two people who can't let go of their instant rage, keep trying to get the other back, get even more incensed in response, and just add more fuel to the fire again and again until their whole existence is a blaze of revenge. If you've ever taken a small thing and blown it wildly out of proportion, Beef is also on the same wavelength. And if any of the above has ever made you question your entire life — or just the daily grind of endeavouring to get by, having everything go wrong, feeling unappreciated and constantly working — Beef might just feel like it was made for you.

Beef streams via Netflix. Read our full review.

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THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER

Of the many pies that Succession's Roy family had their fingers in, pharmaceuticals wasn't one of them. For virtually that, Mike Flanagan gives audiences The Fall of the House of Usher. The horror auteur's take on dynastic wealth gets a-fluttering through a world of decadence enabled by pushing pills legally, as six heirs to an addiction-laced kingdom vie to inherit a vast fortune. Flanagan hasn't given up his favourite genre for pure drama, however. The eponymous Usher offspring won't be enjoying the spoils of their father Roderick's (Bruce Greenwood, The Resident) business success, either, in this absorbing, visually ravishing and narratively riveting eight-parter. As the bulk of this tale is unfurled fireside, its patriarch tells federal prosecutor C Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly, SWAT) why his children (including Pet Sematary: Bloodlines' Henry Thomas, Minx's Samantha Sloyan, The Peripheral's T'Nia Miller, iZombie's Rahul Kohli, The Wrath of Becky's Kate Siegel and The Midnight Club's Sauriyan Sapkota) came to die within days of each other — and, with all the gory details, how.

As with The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor before it, plus The Midnight Club as well, Flanagan's latest Netflix series finds its basis on the page. The author this time: Edgar Allan Poe, although The Fall of the House of Usher isn't a strict adaptation of the iconic author's 1840 short story of the same name, or just an adaptation, even as it bubbles with greed, violence and paranoia (plus death, loss, decay and the deceased haunting the livin)g. Character monikers, episode titles and other details spring from widely across Poe's bibliography. Cue ravens, black cats, masks, tell-tale hearts, pendulums and a Rue Morgue. What if the writer had penned Succession? That's one of Flanagan's questions — and what if he'd penned Dopesick and Painkiller, too? Hailing from the talent behind the exceptional Midnight Mass as well, plus movies Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald's Game and Doctor Sleep, the series that results is a gloriously creepy and involving modern gothic horror entry.

The Fall of the House of Usher streams via Netflix. Read our full review.

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POKER FACE

Cards on the table: thanks to Russian Doll and the Knives Out franchise, Natasha Lyonne and Rian Johnson are both on a helluva streak. In their most recent projects before now, each has enjoyed a hot run not once but twice. Lyonne made time trickery one of the best new shows of 2019, plus a returning standout in 2022 as well, while Johnson's first Benoit Blanc whodunnit and followup Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery were gems of the exact same years. The latter also saw the pair team up briefly — Lyonne and Johnson, that is, although getting a Russian Doll-meets-Knives Out crossover from the universe, or just the Netflix algorithm, would be a dream. Until that wish comes true, there's Poker Face. It's no one's stopgap or consolation prize, however. This new mystery-of-the-week series is an all-out must-see in its own right, and a gleaming streaming ace. Given its components and concept, turning out otherwise would've been the biggest head-scratcher.

Beneath aviator shades, a trucker cap and her recognisable locks, Lyonne plays detective again, as she did in Russian Doll — because investigating why you're looping through the same day over and over, or jumping through time, is still investigating. Johnson gives the world another sleuth, too, after offering up his own spin on Agatha Christie-style gumshoes with the ongoing Knives Out saga. This time, he's dancing with 1968–2003 television series Columbo, right down to Poker Face's title font. Lyonne isn't one for playing conventional detectives, though. Here, she's Charlie Cale, who starts poking around in sudden deaths thanks to an unusual gift and a personal tragedy. As outlined in the show's ten-part first season, Charlie is a human lie detector. She can always tell if someone is being untruthful, a knack she first used in gambling before getting on the wrong side of the wrong people. Then, when a friend and colleague at the far-from-flashy Las Vegas casino where Charlie works winds up dead, that talent couldn't be handier.

Poker Face streams via TVNZ+. Read our full review.

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TELEMARKETERS

No one likes it when their phone rings from an unknown number, whether "no caller ID" or digits that you don't recognise flash up on your mobile's screen. Telemarketers isn't going to change that response. It won't dampen the collective ire that the world holds towards the pushy people on the other end of the line, either. HBO's thrilling three-part docuseries doesn't just reinforce what viewers already feel about the nuisance industry that thinks it can interrupt your day and life with a spiel that no one wants, and impact your bank balance in the process. In addition, it spins a true tale that demonstrates why a deep-seated dislike of telemarketing is so well-founded, and also why cold-calling operations can be so insidious. This true-crime story about the New Jersey-based Civic Development Group surpasses even the most call centre-despising audience member's low expectations of the field — and it's gripping, can't-look-away, has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed stuff. In fact, it's also an account of a tenacious duo revealing a billion-dollar fraud, and bringing this staggering whistleblower documentary to the masses.

"Every other telemarketer who drives you crazy in the whole world is because of CDG," advises one of the series' interviewees. That might seem like a big claim, but co-directors Sam Lipman-Stern (Live From the Streets) and Adam Bhala Lough (The New Radical) step through its truth. The former knows the outfit's approach from experience, working there for seven years from the age of 14 after dropping out of high school, while the latter is the filmmaker cousin he wasn't aware of. Lipman-Stern is Telemarketers' on-screen guiding hand, too, but his ex-colleague Patrick J Pespas is its heart and soul. As seen early, Pespas is called a "telemarketing legend". Although he's happy snorting heroin on-camera in 2000s-era footage, he's switched on to CDG's shonkiness; more than that, he's determined to expose it even if it takes two decades. Everywhere that Lipman-Stern and Pespas look from there, this tale gets worse. It's no wonder that Uncut Gems and Good Time filmmakers Benny and Josh Safdie are among Telemarketers' executive producers, plus Eastbound & Down's Danny McBride, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green.

Telemarketers streams via Neon. Read our full review.

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SWARM

Becky with the good hair gets a shoutout in Swarm. Facial bites do as well, complete with a Love & Basketball reference when the culprit flees. This seven-part series about a global pop sensation and her buzzing fans and stans also has its music icon unexpectedly drop a stunner of a visual album, ride a white horse, be married to a well-known rapper, become a mum to twins and see said husband fight with her sister in an elevator. Her sibling is also a singer, and plenty of folks contend she's the more interesting of the two. Still, Swarm's object of fascination — protagonist Dre's (Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah) undying obsession — sells out tours, breaks Ticketmaster and headlines one of the biggest music festivals there is. And, while they call themselves the titular term rather than a hive, her devotees are zealous and then some, especially humming around on social media.

Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, the show's creators and past colleagues on Glover's exceptional, now-finished Atlanta — Nabers also worked on Watchmen, too — couldn't be more upfront about who they're referring to. No one says Beyoncé's name, however, but Swarm's Houston-born music megastar is the former Destiny's Child singer in everything except moniker. In case anyone watching thinks that this series is trading in coincidences and déjà vu, or just failing to be subtle when it comes to Ni'Jah (Nirine S Brown, Ruthless), the Prime Video newcomer keeps making an overt opening declaration. "This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is intentional," it announces before each episode. From there, it dives into Dre's journey as a twentysomething in 2016 who still adores her childhood idol with the same passion she did as a teen and, instalment by instalment, shows how far she's willing to go to prove it.

Swarm streams via Prime Video. Read our full review.

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CUNK ON EARTH

If you've ever watched a David Attenborough documentary about the planet and wished it was sillier and stupider, to the point of being entertainingly ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining alike, then Netflix comes bearing wonderful news. Actually, the BBC got there first, airing history-of-the-world mockumentary Cunk on Earth back in September 2022. Glorious things come to waiting viewers Down Under now, however — and this gleefully, delightfully absurd take on human civilisation from its earliest days till now, spanning cave paintings, Roman empires, Star Wars' empire, 1989 Belgian techno anthem 'Pump Up the Jam' and more, is one of the best shows to hit Australia in 2023. This series is a comedy masterclass, in fact, featuring everything from a Black Mirror-leaning skit about Beethoven resurrected inside a smart speaker to a recreation of a Dark Ages fray purely through sound also thrown in. It's flat-out masterful, too, and tremendously funny.

This sometimes Technotronic-soundtracked five-part show's beat? Surveying how humanity came to its present state, stretching back through species' origins and evolution, and pondering everything from whether the Egyptian pyramids were built from the top down to the Cold War bringing about the "Soviet onion". The audience's guide across this condensed and comic history is the tweed-wearing Philomena Cunk, who has the steady voice of seasoned doco presenter down pat, plus the solemn gaze, but is firmly a fictional — and satirical — character. Comedian Diane Morgan first started playing the misinformed interviewer in 2013, in Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, with Black Mirror creator Brooker behind Cunk on Earth as well. Over the past decade, Cunk has also brought her odd questions to 2016's one-off Cunk on Shakespeare and Cunk on Christmas, and 2018's also five-instalment Cunk on Britain. After you're done with the character's latest spin, you'll want to devour the rest ASAP.

Cunk on Earth streams via Netflix. Read our full review, and our interview with Charlie Brooker.

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SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF

When word arrived that a new version of Scott Pilgrim was on its way, it felt as inevitable as the person of your dreams having a complicated romantic past. That said, making a Scott Pilgrim anime series also felt more fitting than most similar movie-to-TV jumps. Thanks to the manga-style aesthetic that filled Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels, the video game-esque plot about battling seven evil exes and the cartoon vibe that Edgar Wright brought so engagingly to his 2010 big-screen live-action adaptation, imagining how O'Malley and co-writer/co-producer BenDavid Grabinski (Are You Afraid of the Dark?) — plus Wright (Last Night in Soho) again as an executive producer — could bring that to an eight-part animation was instantly easy. And so, called Scott Pilgrim Takes Off rather than Scott Pilgrim vs the World, this series begins as a straightforward Scott Pilgrim anime, introducing the same tale that's been spread across pages and cinemas (and played through via a video game, too) right down to repeated shots and dialogue.

Meet Scott Pilgrim again, then. The Michael Cera (Barbie)-voiced twentysomething bassist is once more fated to fall in love with literal dream girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ahsoka), who first appears to him as he slumbers, then fight the seven folks who dated her before him. When sparks fly, he also has his own amorous mess to deal with, including that he's dating high-schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong, Best Sellers) and remains heartbroken over being dumped by now-superstar singer Envy Adams (Brie Larson, The Marvels). He's still in Sex Bob-Omb! alongside his friend Stephen Stills (Mark Webber, SMILF) and ex Kim Pine (Alison Pill, Hello Tomorrow!). He still gets Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha, Sense8) introducing him to his battles to be with Ramona. Accordingly, just like Kim shouting "we are Sex Bob-Omb!" at the beginning of a set, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off starts with comfortable familiarity. But at the end of its initial instalment, after every detail looks like the graphic novels and film given the anime treatment to the point of feeling uncanny, in drops the first twist. There's reimaginings, and then there's this playful take that adores the comics and movie, pays homage to them, riffs on and even openly references them, but charmingly shirks the idea of being a remake.

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off streams via Netflix. Read our full review.

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Published on December 18, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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