The Best British TV Series of 2023

Our writers have picked the finest new and returning UK dramas of the year – did your favourite make the list?

Best British TV Series of 2023
Photo: Art by Lucy Quintanilla

Fans of British TV ate well in 2023. The year said goodbye to some excellent British TV shows with the finales of extraordinary crime dramas Happy Valley, Top Boy, Guilt and Endeavour – four very different shows set in four very different places. We waved off comedies Sex Education and Ghosts, and welcomed back some exciting returns in the form of Black Mirror, Good Omens and of course, Doctor Who.

And then there were the new additions – superhero comedy Extraordinary, police newbie drama Blue Lights, mind-bending comic book adaptation Bodies and chilling true crime series The Sixth Commandment.

It’s hard to separate the pack, but using a complex system of pulleys and levers, a gunge machine and – unfortunately necessary for the person who nominated The Idol – an oubliette, Den of Geek polled its writers and drew up two lists of the best TV of the year, one for American shows and one for British series (see below). Offer sage nods of consensus, withering tuts of ‘how could they?’ and your own British TV recommendations down the page.

15. Lockwood & Co.

Available on: Netflix (U.S. and U.K.)

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For family viewing that isn’t a TV talent contest, Netflix YA adaptation Lockwood & Co. is a fun fantasy romp. Adapted from Jonathan Stroud’s hit book series by a team including Attack the Block director Joe Cornish, the eight-episode first series is set in an alternate London plagued by lethal ghosts. The only people with the power to fight the spectres? Teenagers, who’ve been enlisted into the all-powerful Fittes Agency to do the dangerous work of protecting the world. 

Snapping at Fittes’ ankles are the titular Lockwood & Co., a tiny agency run by a wealthy orphan, his bookish best friend and powerful psychic newcomer Lucy. It’s filled with mysteries, sword fights, peril and scares, and boasts an excellent 80s Goth soundtrack. It’s a real shame that Netflix didn’t see fit to giving this a second series.

14. Top Boy series 3

Available on: Netflix (U.S. and U.K.)

Our reviewer said:

“After 12 years, five seasons, and a revival aided by Canadian rapper Drake, thrilling UK crime drama Top Boy ended fittingly for a show that had become known for its authentic reflection of a specific part of British culture. 

Through the story of drug leaders and best friends Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane ‘Kano’ Robinson), viewers witnessed how the dreams of young men wanting to provide for their family and overcome the poor hand they’ve been dealt leads to a life of crime – the only option they feel is open to them. From building a drug empire to violently fighting – and often killing – those who threaten to take their positions, the Summerhouse Estate has gone through a lot to make those dreams come true. But in the final season, Top Boy shows those dreams becoming closer to a nightmare.

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In the final season, Top Boy continues strong with the thrilling writing, beautiful cinematography and infectious music that made it successful. The final season’s promise of “no loose ends” however, isn’t exactly true. How could it be, because crime – as this season shows to devastating effect – never stops.”

13. Inside No. 9 series 8

Available on: BBC iPlayer (U.K.); BritBox (US)

The hoodwinking started early with Inside No. 9’s penultimate series. For years, fans had pressed the idea that the horror-comedy anthology creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith should set a story on board a number nine bus. Finally came news that they were going to do it! The bus-set story would be a parody of popular 1970s comedy On the Buses starring cheeky retro favourite Robin Askwith, and then… of course they didn’t do it. Inside No. 9 is the master of subverting expectations and a devil for mischief. The bus episode never arrived and in its place aired a new Lee Mack-presented quiz show that turned out to be not strictly as advertised.

Other series eight stories involved necromancy, a parrot and a hidden fortune; a man with a debilitating fear of Friday the 13th; a serial online dater; and a couple celebrating their ninth anniversary in a remote Scottish cabin. Grotesque, funny, condensed stories all, that proved there’s no slowing down for this one.

12. Guilt series 3

Available on: BBC iPlayer (U.K, not yet available in the U.S.)

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.

11. Blue Lights

Available on: BBC iPlayer (U.K, not yet available in the U.S.)

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.

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10. Boiling Point

Available on: BBC iPlayer (U.K, not yet available in the U.S.)

Our reviewer said:

“Be warned, this restaurant kitchen drama is not a relaxing watch, but it’s also never a dull one. Gripping, frustrating and tense, it’s the kind of television best paired with a chamomile tea and a course of beta blockers. Alongside the drama, there’s also the required quota of food porn – energetically edited sequences of braising, charring, saucing and painstaking plating, complete with tiny tweezered-on garnishes. It’s always exhilarating to watch people at the top of their game do their thing, and Boiling Point provides plenty of opportunity to do that.

It’s also exhilarating to be part of a TV gang, which is exactly what this is. When Carly (“yes chef”) berates her brigade, you burn with their shame, but when she praises them, you glow. Vinette Robinson makes a powerhouse of a lead, but the whole cast is packed with interest and the direction is high-energy and non-stop. By the end of the first series you’ll feel like this is only the beginning of this ballsy, character-driven drama. Book a table.”

9. Bodies

Available on: Netflix (U.S. and U.K.)

Our reviewer said:

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“I hope they feel like they’re coming down from a trip or out of a trance,” said Bodies showrunner Paul Tomalin when asked what he hoped viewers would take away after watching his adaptation of Si Spencer’s graphic novel of the same name. Job done. Eight-episode mystery Bodies tells an extremely ambitious story, and deserves to be filed alongside 1899,The OA andSense8 in Netflix’s trip/trance sci-fi category.

Fans of that category will know that it’s a perilous place to be when it comes to recommissioning. All of the shows above were cut short after failing to break through to a wide-enough audience – perhaps as a result of their complicated philosophical and sci-fi ideas, or perhaps for not managing to prove quite as much fun as their high concept ideas promised.

Luckily for viewers, Bodies’ characters and plots do reach a satisfying conclusion that means a recommission isn’t required – even if a slightly cynical attempt to leave a door open for a potential return has been tacked on to the end.”

8. Hijack

Available on: Apple TV+ (U.S. and U.K.)

Our reviewer said:

“Who remembers the last time we got a gripping airplane thriller with an intense script and a charismatic lead actor? Well, hopefully, many of you since Jean-Francois Richet’s B flick, Plane, starring Gerard Butler, has only come out at the beginning of the year, and it was a surprisingly enjoyable ride. Apple TV+’s latest 7-part miniseries, Hijack, aims to ride a similar, if more high-level, wave, and for the most part, it does it with utter confidence thanks to its sharp writing and a surly Idris Elba as its lead.

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Hijack’s writers are deft enough to keep us guessing about the criminal group’s intentions (whether they’re terrorists or not) and provide a little more than surface-level backstories. Keeping the panic, fear, and desperate reactions grounded and realistic, the series is astonishingly competent in delivering a very plausible scenario. Although the show is kind of the TV equivalent of a summer blockbuster, it makes us invest just enough emotion to relate to every hostage and feel the weight of terror they’re all subjected to for several hours.

Thanks to Elba’s charismatic, no-bullshit lead performance, a strong supporting cast, and a twisty, well-orchestrated plot, Hijack is captivating and good television you won’t regret investing your time in.”

7. Sex Education series 4

Available on: Netflix (U.S. and U.K.)

After four glorious, x-rated and enlightening series, Sex Education concluded this year and… should we lower ourselves by saying “it went out with a bang”? Go on, then, as it’s Christmas. It was certainly a departure from the first three series: Otis and Eric (Asa Butterfield and Ncuti Gatwa respectively) were the new kids at a brand-new college, after their old school – the lovable but rough Moordale – closed down, and in comparison Cavendish College was a progressive utopia. This gave the show an opportunity to introduce several new characters and explore fresh areas of intimacy. This series went hard on the big issues and was an absolute celebration of diversity, but fortunately still managed to be funny, warm and poignant.

A fitting close to a groundbreaking show, relationships were forged and ended, lessons learned by the grownups and young folk alike, and Eric has a revelatory arc that’s the most satisfying of the show so far. An educational delight.

6. Taskmaster series 15 & 16

Available on: Channel (U.K.) Taskmaster YouTube (U.S.)

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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 of joy.

Series 15 and 16, which aired in 2023, were more proof that the format is showing no signs of wear and tear. The casting is arguably better than ever – every series, more of UK comedy’s established names are convinced by the peers who’ve gone before them that it really is the best comedy gig on TV, while an apparently endless supply of weirdo newbies is here to complement them.

After the highly entertaining family dynamic of series 15 (Frankie Boyle, Ivo Graham, Jenny Éclair, Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Mae Martin), the series 16 gang (Julian Clary, Lucy Beaumont, Sam Campbell, Sue Perkins and Susan Wokoma) were an even stranger and more delightful gang. Long may it continue.

5. Ghosts series 5

Available on: BBC iPlayer (U.K, purchase-only in the U.S.)

If you love somebody, set them free said… was it Sting? Anyway, that’s just what the cast and creators of BBC comedy Ghosts have done for their adored sitcom. They made five great and much-loved series and instead of keeping going and risking a drop in quality or excitement, they’ve set the show free. Now it exists as this fairly perfect box-set, all wrapped with a final Christmas special-shaped bow on top, airing on December 25 (the final special is wonderful – sad and funny and truthful and Christmassy, but no spoilers here).

Series five saw Alison and Mike struggle to rebuild financially after series four’s gatehouse fire, and get courted by a wealthy golf consortium interested in buying Button House. They and the ghosts made some emotional leaps and realised the family they’d all become. It was Ghosts‘ established combination of silly and poignant, and contained some stand-out moments including the telling of the Captain’s death story. No wonder so many of Den of Geek’s writers put it at the top of their lists.

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4. Happy Valley series 3

Available on: BBC iPlayer (U.K); AMC+ (U.S.)

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.

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.

3. Black Mirror series 6

Available on: Netflix (U.S. and U.K.)

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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2. Good Omens series 2

Available on: Prime Video (U.S. and U.K.)

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 was even better than the first.

1. Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials

Available on: BBC iPlayer (U.K.); Disney+ (U.S.)

It wasn’t even close. Doctor Who sailed into first place among Den of Geek’s writers, illustrating the shot-in-the-arm effect that Russell T Davies’ return has had on the show. The run-up to 60th anniversary specials “The Star Beast”, “Wild Blue Yonder” and “The Giggle” was packed with rumours, returning faces and anticipation – all enjoyable enough on their own.

The real delight though, was in the episodes themselves. Three very different beasts: a family romp, a chilling space-horror, and a balls to the wall ‘deranged baddie with a massive laser’ adventure that drew a line under the Doctor’s geological strata of trauma and said enough with the pain and guilt, let’s get back to fun.

And by the looks of the all-singing, all-dancing, baby-eating goblin Christmas special “The Church on Ruby Road”, fun is exactly what’s on the way…

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Also Nominated (Ranked By Number of Votes)

Extraordinary (Disney+); Starstruck series 3 (BBC Three); Time series 2 (BBC One); Slow Horses series 3 (Apple TV+); Endeavour series 9 (ITV); Luther: The Fallen Sun (Netflix); The Confessions of Frannie Langton (ITV); Wilderness (Prime Video); World on Fire series 2 (BBC); A Town Called Malice (Sky Max); Louis Theroux Interviews series 2 (BBC Two); Rain Dogs (BBC Three); The Gallows Pole (BBC Two); The Gold (BBC One); The Lazarus Project series 2 (Sky Max); The Sixth Commandment (BBC One); Unforgotten series 5 (ITV); The Bay series 4 (ITV); The Crown series 6 (Netflix); Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland (BBC Two); Three Little Birds (ITV); Tom Jones (ITV).