Best British TV Shows of 2023 (So Far)

Looking for UK TV series recommendations? Catch up on these excellent shows on streaming.

Best British TV 2023 So Far Header Image August update
Photo: BBC, Netflix, Channel 4, ITV

It can’t go on. Must-watch TV shows have been arriving at an unmanageable rate for so long that releasing an excellent new series is now essentially an act of violence. Nobody has the time to be this thoroughly entertained.

Curation is our only solution. Recommendations that cut through promotional budgets and PR hype, leaving behind just the good stuff. Below, we’ve collected the best of the best from this year of UK television so far. If you only have time to watch a handful of shows in 2023, make them these gems. We’ll add any others that make the grade as the year goes on, and do please make your own recommendations below.

Happy Valley Series 3

Stream on: BBC iPlayer (UK); AMC+/BBC America/Acorn TV from May 22nd (US)

Series three is when the word-of-mouth enthusiasm for Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley started to break through even for those who’d formerly dismissed it as just another BBC police drama. The chances are that you’ve already seen it, but if not, oh, the jealousy! Waiting for you are 18 episodes of some of TV’s most gripping storytelling and finest acting.

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It’s the story of Catherine Cawood, a West Yorkshire sergeant raising her grandson solo after the painful loss of her daughter. When the boy’s biological father – James Norton’s dangerous convict Tommy Lee Royce – comes into the picture, it’s down to Catherine to protect her family, and everybody else in the drug-flooded valley she polices.

Played by Sarah Lancashire in a career-best performance, Cawood is a legendary TV character. Inspiring, funny, hard as nails, strictly no-nonsense and very good at her job, she and the cast of characters around her are a joy to watch. Honestly, you won’t see a better or more involving drama, and the ending is pretty much perfect.

Endeavour Series 9

Stream on: ITVX (UK); Masterpiece on PBS (US)

This Inspector Morse prequel pulled off an astonishing feat by creating a series that’s every bit as beloved and (whisper it) perhaps even stronger than its parent show. Written by Russell Lewis, a master of trickery and mischief who folds Morse and pop culture references into every two-hour mystery, it’s a great period drama with an excellent central cast.

Shaun Evans leads the ensemble as young detective Endeavour Morse, whom we follow over seven years from his first posting at Oxford’s Cowley Gate police station in 1965, on to 1972. Bagman to Roger Allam’s redoubtable Londoner Fred Thursday, and reporting to Anton Lesser’s prim and proper ACC Bright, Endeavour makes friends, enemies and case solves as he gradually morphs into the man we know he’ll become.

The ninth and final series gave us some of the show’s finest episodes and bowed out on a moving emotional note. As detective shows go, this one’s hard to beat.

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Stream on: Disney+ (UK); Hulu (US)

Not since Misfits has the superhero genre met adult comedy with such enjoyable results. Extraordinary is Emma Moran’s sweary, grown-up fantasy series about a world in which (almost) everybody develops a superpower on their 18th birthday. Turning back time, communing with the dead, super-strength… you name it, someone has it. Apart, that is, from 25-year-old Jen, a late-developer still waiting to discover her special something.

Raucous, rude, and funny with just a little bit of heart, this London-set series makes an excellent binge. And as a bonus for Derry Girls fans, it stars Sister Michael herself, Siobhan McSweeney. Series two is already on the way.

Taskmaster Series 15

Stream on: Channel 4 (UK only)

If you’re not on the Taskmaster train yet, take our word that there isn’t a more reliably funny show on television. Every series, five comedians are set a series of weird, creative and entirely pointless challenges by the show’s creator Alex Horne, and their performance is then judged by the Taskmaster Greg Davies. That premise barely touches on the laughs contained within – Taskmaster’s not just a TV show, it’s a repository for joy.

Series 15 was arguably the show’s best cast yet. Frankie Boyle joined Jenny Eclair (if you need lessons in having fun, look no further than her), Ivo Graham, Mae Martin and instant favourite Kiell Smith-Bynoe. Stupid, absurd and an hour a week you can count on to escape everything, get on board. And best of all – Series 16 featuring Julian Clary, Sue Perkins and more, will be here later this year!

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Blue Lights

Stream on: BBC iPlayer (UK only)

Just when you thought we’d had enough crime dramas, along comes the deliciously fresh Blue Lights, a compelling series about three new police recruits in Northern Ireland. Belfast is a dangerous city to police, but newbies Grace, Tommy and Annie – not to mention the viewers – are taken under the wing of experienced cops like the wry, fatherly Gerry, charming Stevie, and their brave sergeant McNally. 

The characters are instantly loveable thanks to a mixture of superb performances from a relatively unknown cast and great writing from Blue Lights creators Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson. You’ll find yourself rooting for them all as they tackle nail-biting front-line police work, taking on the seemingly untouchable McIntyre gang, and navigating the sinister influence of MI5.

It’s dynamic, sometimes heartbreaking, often unbearably tense, but ultimately completely addictive viewing. Series two please.

Guilt Series 3

Stream on: BBC iPlayer (UK), at a later date: PBS Masterpiece (US)

The McCall brothers returned in April for the third and final series of Neil Forsyth’s excellent BBC Scotland drama Guilt. A thriller with shades of the Coen Brothers, led by terrific performances from leads Mark Bonnar and Jamie Sives and boasting a cracking soundtrack, Guilt is a must-watch.

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It’s the story of Max and Jake, grown-up brothers who couldn’t be more different – one is a venal, scheming and (apparently) conscienceless lawyer, while the other is a gentle, music-obsessed soul. After a hit-and-run in the first series tangles them up together, they get in over their heads with Edinburgh gangsters and things only get more complicated, and dangerous, from there.

If you missed out on the previous two instalments, it’s all there waiting on BBC iPlayer as the perfect thriller binge.

Once Upon A Time In Northern Ireland

Stream on: BBC iPlayer (UK); PBS (US)

“The Troubles” span three decades of devastation, and nowhere is this more accurately and authentically documented than the five-part documentary Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland. This unflinchingly honest BBC series is director James Bluemel’s follow-up to his award-winning series Once Upon a Time in Iraq, and uses painstakingly detailed interviews with people from all sides of the conflict to paint a comprehensive picture of what life was like for those caught up in it. Voices are heard from the families of those who died in the many bombings, assassinations and the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre, as well as from those who joined the IRA or loyalist paramilitary groups like the UVF, as well as from British soldiers deployed in Northern Ireland. The grim archive footage is at times hard to watch, but facing up to it – as the interviewees’ testimony shows – is perhaps more important now than ever.

Black Mirror Series 6

Stream on: Netflix

Black Mirror hasn’t been an exclusively British show since it moved from Channel 4 to Netflix for season three, but creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones are two of our own, so we’ll claim it. Season six of this tech-based anthology drama delivered five very different episodes, with an excellent cast across the board. “Joan Is Awful” is a strangely prescient streaming-AI farce starring Annie Murphy, “Loch Henry” is a true crime documentary satire, “Beyond the Sea” starred Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett as 1960s astronauts trialling an experimental new technology, “Mazey Day” followed a paparazzo into… somewhere unexpected, while “Demon 79” (aka the best one of the series) paid homage to 1970s British horror.

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The Sixth Commandment

Stream on: BBC iPlayer (UK only)

It’s tough to stand out in the crowded field of true crime TV drama, but The Sixth Commandment does it thanks to an excellent cast, powerful writing and a commitment to honour the real-life victims of a conscienceless and exceedingly cruel crime. Timothy Spall plays Peter Farquhar, a retired English teacher, with Anne Reid as his elderly neighbour Ann Moore-Martin. They both fell foul of Ben Field, a young man who groomed, manipulated, drugged and murdered Farquhar, and almost succeeded in doing the same to Moore-Martin, in order to benefit from their wills. Screenwriter Sarah Phelps and director Saul Dibb tell their story with sensitivity and enormous empathy in this four-part BBC drama. It’s a tough watch, but a compelling one.

Good Omens Series 2

Stream on: Prime Video

Fans thought that 2019 TV fantasy comedy Good Omens, based on Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 novel of the same name, was a one-and-done deal. After all, the book had been adapted, what more was there to say? Plenty, as it turns out. Neil Gaiman and co-writer John Finnemore created a second six-part series about angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley, continuing their story and building up to a hopefully-on-the-way-but-not-yet-officially-commissioned third and final series. A celestial adventure that skips through millennia, visiting heaven and hell on the way, it’s a beautiful romp led by two charismatic performances from TV’s favourite double-act, Michael Sheen and David Tennant. Series two might even be better than the first.