Top shows to stream in 2023: best of the year

From Succession S4 to Faraway Downs – our rundown of the very best shows to stream in 2023.

It’s been a great year for streaming. Here are all of the shows that received four stars and above by ScreenHub reviewers in 2023.

Netflix

Surviving Summer S2 – 4.5 star review

>Surviving Summer. Image: Netflix.

‘Although Summer is frequently exasperating, she’s a joyous, spontaneous antidote to the proto-professional way her friends treat surfing. These kids are floundering under their own expectations, grimly saying, ‘This is my last chance!’ Their carefree grom days are but a brief window that, if missed, will close forever.’

Read: Surviving Summer Season 2: making all the right waves

Heartstopper S2 – 4.5 star review

>Joe Locke and Kit Connor in Heartstopper Season 2. Image: Netflix.

‘As Charlie and Nick dance towards the realisation that coming out may not be the be-all and end-all in a rapidly evolving world, this old queer found himself bubbling up with great big happy tears. Being seen is everything, but it’s up to you if and how you embrace that, and you can do it any damn way you want. Heartstopper gets this, and you can’t stop the beat.’

Read: Heartstopper Season 2 review

One Piece5 star review

>One Piece. Image: Netflix.

‘Nestled securely among the genuinely thrilling action sequences and wonderful bouts of silliness is a heart of emotional gold. What One Piece gets right overall is the way it lures you in with all that shiny stuff and then absolutely gut-punches you with its serious moments; exposing the oppression of people who had no say in the matter of pirates vs marines and whether they wanted to pick a side at all.’

Read: One Piece live action review – a real treasure of a Netflix series

Wellmania4 star review

>Celeste Barber plays Liv in Wellmania. Image: Netflix.

‘Ultimately, what could have been a pretty one-note jab at the pretensions and charlatans of wellness culture turns into something more holistic. The show’s message is that both self-denial and self-indulgence should be morally neutral rather than grounds to decide someone’s a good or bad person. (As an aside, I enjoyed the show’s refusal to link Liv’s health to how her body looks, or even to pat itself on the back for depicting ‘real’ bodies.)’

Read: Wellmania on Netflix review: a comedy with drama at its heart

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story4 star review

>Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. Image: Netflix.

Queen Charlotte is not only about Black women but all women – the struggle to have their voice heard, the challenges of being widowed, and the value of strong friendships. Rhimes’ ability to showcase social commentary throughout the show is a marvel and makes this six episode series a must-watch.’

Read: Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is about Black women and all women

Disney+

The Bear S2 – 4.5 star review

>The Bear Season 2. Image: Disney+.

‘The second season doesn’t quite bring the magic all the way back, but after that amazing first season almost anything would have felt like a letdown. Just because a little air has been let out of the balloon doesn’t mean the whole thing comes crashing down – far from it. But this season does expand things a little, and that pressure cooker vibe that felt so essential has vented a little steam.’

Read: The Bear Season 2 review: mo’ money, mo’ problems

Faraway Downs4 star review

>Faraway Downs. Image: Disney+.

‘The bombing by the Japanese air force is an astoundingly cinematic cataclysm that pitches the story into an apocalypse now that’s thrillingly gripping. Scattering the characters amongst the fiery rubble raises the stakes, suddenly much more keenly felt. It’s here that Luhrmann’s extravagant filmmaking style comes into its own, with the drama underlining the stark differences over which lives are most valued. A heart-stopping alternate finale filmed but abandoned drives home a gut-punch with a scene-stealing thrust by Gulpilil.’

Read: Faraway Downs review: Baz Luhrmann lands his Australia re-do

The Clearing 4 star review

>The Clearing. Image: Disney+.

The Clearing recognises that cults thrive on complicity, not raw domination. And it explores with satisfying ambivalence how traumatised people can delude themselves that they’ve mastered their past.’

Read: The Clearing on Disney+ review: a juicy look at cults and complicity

The Mandalorian4 star review

>The Mandalorian. Image: Disney+.

‘As you’d hope from Lucasfilm, the creatures are marvellous: there’s a new cast of (literally) juicy villains in lavish outfits. There are droids of increasingly absurd purpose. Some monsters are new, but others we know and loathe.’

Read: The Mandalorian is perfectly ordinary and that’s perfectly fine

American Born Chinese4 star review

>American Born Chinese. Image: Disney+.

‘As directed by Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings helmer Destin Daniel Cretton and, for one of eight episodes, Charlie’s Angel actor Lucy Liu, some of the show’s loveliest moments are between Jin and his mum. Whether she’s trying to convince him that a cartoon-appliqued hoodie in a shop that also sells milk is the height of high fashion, or responding, when he grumbles about dinner being mostly skin and toenails, that, ‘sometimes the things you hate are good for you,’ the recognisable rub-up of occasionally conflicted love is lush.’

Read: American Born Chinese review: heavenly war vs teenage hormones

Stan

Scrublands4 star review

>Scrublands. Image: Stan.

‘If you want the pleasures of genre fiction, you have to be willing to go along with the conventions. Scrublands doesn’t break new ground, but if you’re after a solidly entertaining mystery it delivers the goods. There’s a lot going on, the cast is strong, and the priest seems to have only gunned down the town’s scuzziest residents so you know the place was rotten to the core.’

Read: Scrublands, Stan review: it delivers the goods

Wolf Like Me S2 – 4 star review

>Wolf Like Me. Image: Stan.

‘Often the term ‘dramedy’ rings alarm bells. This is the good kind – a decent drama with a few jokes mixed in, not a series that isn’t dramatic or funny enough to be either. It helps that the half-hour episodes keep things pretty tightly focused.’

Read: Wolf Like Me, Stan, Season 2 review: a joyous rebirth

Lucky Hank4 star review

>Lucky Hank. Image: Stan.

‘With so much going on, it’s difficult to figure out exactly where all this is heading, especially as Hank is set up as a man fully aware that he doesn’t have all that much to lose. Fortunately he’s played by Odenkirk, an actor who can sell pretty much anything. A character who can go from depressed dad to snarky boss in a heartbeat is a great showcase for his range. If anything, it feels like this series could push him a little harder towards the darker side of the material.’

Read: Lucky Hank: can Bob Odenkirk revive the campus drama?

Bad Behaviour4 star review

>Bad Behaviour. Image: Stan.

Bad Behaviour has a powerful message: that ‘bad’ and ‘good’ are not intrinsic. Behaving cruelly is easier than striving to be kind, but the series ends on the hopeful possibility that Jo won’t behave badly forever.’

Read: Bad Behaviour review: malice, manipulation and hope

ABC iview

The Whiteley Art Scandal4 star review

>The Whiteley Art Scandal. Image: ABC.

‘There’s a wealth of fine detail throughout this series, whether you’re interested in Whiteley’s methods or working or how the police brought one of the disputed paintings from Sydney to Melbourne when they couldn’t get insurance for the trip. Artist Bill Luke’s sketches of the various characters is a nice touch (and helps keep the chain of owners clear), while all the central players make strong impressions. The series even has a few surprises up its sleeve before the end credits.’

Read: The Whiteley Art Scandal, ABC review: a rotten world well displayed

Utopia S5 – 4 star review

>Utopia. Image: ABC.

‘While there’s a big risk with this material of slipping into ‘old man yells at cloud’ territory – and there have been occasional episodes in the past where the targets have seemed a little ill-chosen – producers Working Dog know their stuff. Despite the sense of futility that underlies Utopia, for the most part they manage to highlight the underlying flaws in our system without getting overtly political, making sure the comedy comes first even when the moral is ‘maybe this woke business is getting a little out of hand’.’

Read: Utopia Season 5 review: an ABC winner returns

Queerstralia5 star review

>Queerstralia. Image: ABC.

Queerstralia is a glowing tribute to the people who refused to conform, who stood up to be counted and pushed back against persecution. It’s all handled in Marr’s trademark cheeky delight, in the way of the very best documentaries that aim to reach out across arbitrary demarcation lines (here’s looking at you, Salamanca Market) and restore queer heroes to the centre of the story.’

Read: Queerstralia review: our exultant, sometimes tragic LGBTIQA+ history

In Limbo4 star review

>In Limbo. Image: ABC.

In Limbo is basically a story about two men’s friendship (even if one of them is dead) that looks to go deeper than just the usual banter. It doesn’t always find the heart of things, but a certain distance feels more realistic at times. We see why Nate and Charlie became friends as kids, and we see them as best mates as adults.’

Read: ABC’s In Limbo offers a spirited look at male friendship

Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe5 star review

>Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe. Image: ABC.

‘Being their first ABC-commissioned narrative series, Aunty Donna bring the laughs out at a rapid pace, many of which come at the expense of ABC properties like the aforementioned Gardening Australia, as well as Rake and 4 Corners – and even the ABC iView app itself (which ‘definitely works!’). I bust a gut many, many times during my binge watch of the (criminally short) six episodes.’

Read: Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café review: locally sourced sketches with robust comical flavour

The Newsreader S2 – 4.5 star review

>The Newsreader. Image: ABC.

‘A big part of what makes the show work is that it’s one of the busiest Australian dramas around. All of the aforementioned plotlines take up a fraction of the episode; many of them only get a brief scene or two. The bulk of the first episode is devoted to News at 6’s election night coverage, which starts out on a knife-edge thanks to Tate running promos committing the team to having an election result by 7.45pm, and only gets worse as their other big draw – an exclusive chat with Paul Keating – proves harder to land than they thought.’

Read: The Newsreader Season 2 on ABC review: still a winner

SBS On Demand

Erotic Stories 4.5 star review

>Erotic Stories. Image: SBS.

‘I suppose what makes these Erotic Stories ‘erotic’ rather than ‘pornographic’ is that they’re about much more than just the thrill of getting off. They’re tales of intimacy: being seen and held for who we really are. The sex we witness also changes the characters’ own beliefs about themselves. And whether they’ve known their partners for years or are strangers who’ll never meet again, these encounters are always meaningful.’

Read: Erotic Stories, SBS review: sexy in the right ways

Night Bloomers4 star review

>Night Bloomers. Image: SBS.

‘Australian horror crawls easily under your skin, and Night Bloomers uses a genre about monstrous misfits and the shadows between borders to craft bloody fables for the diaspora.’

Read: Night Bloomers, SBS review: bloody fables from the Korean diaspora

The Mission4 star review

The Mission. Image Is Of A Man In Black T-Shirt And Jacket With Short Dark Hair, Looking At The Camera, Standing In Front Of A Dark Backdrop Including Blurry Old Master Paintings.
>The Mission. Image: SBS.

Marc Fennell has been doing this kind of thing for a while now and this series uses him well, keeping his on-camera appearances in interviews largely to moments of astonishment or incredulity while letting him serve as a guide through the increasingly complex international web of cops and crims and forgers and dealers. He’s a safe pair of hands, and he doesn’t fumble here.

Read: The Mission, SBS review: Fennell is in fine form

The First Inventors5 star review

>The First Inventors. Image: SBS/NITV.

‘For Indigenous viewers, this show may be a vindication, and a repudiation of colonial misinformation. But for all viewers, The First Inventors is a generous, hopeful show that can help Australia invent a brighter future.’

Read: The First Inventors on SBS review: a show that lets us listen and learn

The Kingdom4 star review

>The Kingdom. Image: SBS.

‘This documentary doesn’t ignore the dark side of the now crumbling Hillsong ministries either. It’s a compassionate and humane look at what drives these churches and the people who visit them – in large part because the big hook here is that host Marc Fennell grew up in the Pentecostal system himself.’

Read: The Kingdom on SBS review: a peek at Pentecostalism

Appetite4 star review

>Appetite. Image: SBS.

Appetite is grounded in a solidarity springing from the characters’ shared migrant dislocation and economic exploitation. As a more familiar kind of silly TV twentysomething, Zal is the outlier; when the others realise he grew up rich in Sydney, it shocks them less than when they realise his mum’s white. The four lead actors are all very charming – even Labade, who’s saddled with acting like a dickhead for the first half of the series. However, Wu is especially watchable as Tessa. I would happily follow them on more adventures – and surely there’s room to explore the delivery-rider subculture more deeply than the quick glimpses we get here.’

Read: Appetite on SBS review: a moreish, snackable treat

Alone Australia4 star review

>Alone Australia. Image: SBS.

‘Wilderness is a Western construct, in which land exists either as a resource to exploit, or as a space into which to project individual sovereignty: ‘man vs. wild’ is deliberately antagonistic. This makes Alone Australia a rare TV treat because, paradoxically, it shows how much people need connection, community and curiosity to thrive.’

Read: Alone Australia brings us together in the wilderness

Safe Home4 star review

>Safe Home. Image: SBS.

‘At times the raw nature of family violence threatens to overwhelm the more traditional drama, but Phoebe’s viewpoint is a strong one, bringing wider systemic social problems down to a very human level. It’s a tough world she’s found herself in – Melbourne has rarely looked so cold and unforgiving, with regular inserts of chilly skyscrapers looming against the night sky – and it soon becomes clear that it’s a world that extends well into her own. Safe Home isn’t comfortable or safe entertainment. With subject matter like this it shouldn’t be. If good drama is all about what’s at stake, this is one of the best Australian dramas of the year.’

Read: Review: Safe Home on SBS

Prime Video

The Power 4 star review

>The Power. Image: Prime Video.

‘There are A LOT of moving parts at play in The Power, as we witness varying responses to this global sweep and new characters are added to the book’s narrative, but the story demands an epic scope, and Tucker steers us along ably.’

Read: The Power review: Toni Collette and the teenagers smashing the patriarchy

The Continental: From the World of John Wick4 star review

>The Continental: From the World of John Wick. image: Prime Video.

‘You won’t be disappointed if you’re just here for the Wick mayhem. With enough expertly choreographed fisticuffs and car chases in the first two eps to keep you going, all hell breaks loose in the frenetic finale. As Winston says: ‘I need guns. Lots of guns.’

Read: The Continental: From the World of John Wick review

Paramount+

Yellowjackets S2 – 4.5 star review

>Yellowjackets. Image: Paramount+.

‘It’s exciting enough that any TV show now tells its own unique story rather than being based on pre-existing intellectual property. But Yellowjackets is particularly rich, complex and gripping, and I love the way it subverts many of the simplistic ‘trauma and recovery’ tropes familiar from ‘elevated horror’. It has a flinty, anti-nostalgic quality: do you look back yearningly at your youth, or strive to outrun your past mistakes and regrets? Yes, the characters are ‘damaged’ – but they also have agency, and they can’t truly be controlled. This is a show in which women might do literally anything.’

Read: Yellowjackets S2 review: these women might do anything

NCIS: Sydney4 star review

>NCIS Sydney. Image: Paramount+.

‘To be extremely clear, this isn’t trying to do anything new with the by-now very well-established NCIS formula. If you like those series you’ll almost certainly like this, even if your interest in the franchise is strictly just ‘I can’t find the remote after The Cheap Seats has finished, guess I’ll stick around and find out who murdered that naval cadet working on a secret code-breaking formula, hope the relationship between the sexy NCIS agent and the sexy NCIS coroner isn’t on the rocks because it’s the anniversary of his wife’s death’.’

Read: NCIS Sydney review: Bob Hawke was dope?

Adam Hills: Grow Another Foot4 star review

>Adam Hills: Grow Another Foot. Image: Paramount+.

‘Hills is an endearing and charismatic central figure, and his commitment to the sport and his team mates constantly shines through. He’s not afraid to show the emotional and physical toll it all takes; it’s a side of him that the usually polished performer (occasional rants on The Last Leg aside) rarely displays. But while this is obviously a salute to determination, overcoming the odds, the power of mateship and the majesty of sporting achievement, a persistent theme throughout is just how physically risky taking part in full contact rugby is for a lot of the players.’

Read: Adam Hills: Grow Another Foot review – eyes on the ball

The Betoota Advocate Presents4 star review

>Image: Paramount+.

‘Australian satirical sites have a bit of a tradition of moving into serious news commentary. The Chaser’s commentary site, The Shot, made a name for itself during the dregs of the Morrison government for repeatedly pointing out that the Morrison government was often a bit rubbish. This isn’t that, because there’s nothing particularly controversial being said here. It’s more of an extension of the brand, a way to present Betoota as the face of a certain kind of blunt, cut-through-the-crap, tell-it-like-it-is Aussie story-telling. What you get with The Betoota Advocate Presents is engaging and informative factual entertainment. From the website that gave you headlines like ‘Uni Student At Stage Where They Think It’s Time To Host A Dinner Party’ and ‘Balding Guy At Least Quite Tall’, maybe it is on brand after all?’

Read: The Betoota Advocate Presents review: irreverent explainers surprise and delight

The Inspired Unemployed: (Impractical) Jokers4 star review

>The Inspired Unemployed. Image: Paramount+.

‘Not all prank shows are created equal. First you have the kind where the joke is on unsuspecting members of the public – classic shows like Candid Camera, or somewhat less classic series like Balls of Steel. Sometimes you get a series where the pranks are trying to take down the high-profile and powerful, which is the kind of thing that shot The Chaser and Ali G to fame. The Inspired Unemployed are four twenty-something mates – Jack Steele, Liam Moore, Dom Littrich and Matt ‘Falcon’ Ford – on a mission to humiliate each other. Ford and Steele are the ones behind their popular Instagram page and they’re big on TikTok as well, but here all four are on an equal footing and nobody’s getting off lightly.’

Read: The Inspired Unemployed: (Impractical) Jokers review

Paper Dolls – 4 star review

>Paper Dolls. Image: Paramount+.

‘Pop music goes in cycles, nostalgia is always in fashion, and pointing out the sexism of the music industry while young women in sexy costumes gyrate on stage is just good business. Paper Dolls isn’t so much lifting the lid on the inner workings of celebrity as giving audiences a more polished and twist-heavy reboot of what Pop Stars was serving up 20 years ago. Turns out the music business is sleazy, exploitative and heartless – I guess that’s what makes it so entertaining.’

Read: Paper Dolls, Paramount+ review: a musical roller-coaster ride

Binge

Succession S4 – 4.5 star review

>Succession. Image: HBO.

‘Much like Veep, and before that UK political sitcom The Thick of It (both of which Succession creator Jesse Armstrong worked on), Succession excels when it comes to razor-sharp one-liners spat out by unpleasant people. Where Succession moves beyond those series – which were both still sitcoms at the core of their dark hearts – is in displaying the human side of those venal characters.’

Read: Succession S4 review: love will tear us apart again

Our Flag Means Death S2 – 5 star review

>Our Flag Means Death. Image: Binge.

‘Unlike Season 1, Our Flag Means Death gets straight into the meat of things, flowing at a much faster pace. It’s snappily written, and keeps the laughs and feels coming without sacrificing important and nuanced moments of character development. The episodes are incredibly addictive from the get-go, making for a perfect weekend binge.’

Read: Our Flag Means Death Season 2 review

Love Me S2 – 4 star review

>Love Me. Image: Binge.

‘The first season was about finding love; this is more about finding ways to keep it going when other factors intrude. Having a child is seen by many as the ultimate expression of love; what happens when the child arrives but the love is gone, or a relationship is building towards something that may never happen? Love Me remains a thoughtful, often delightful look at the paths love takes, the way life goes when we embrace the chance to be bound to another.’

Read: Love Me S2 review: a rare local drama that puts character over corpses

The Back Side of Television S2 – 4.5 star review

>The Back Side of Television. Image: Binge.

‘Quick-witted, thoughtful and incisive, this is a thoroughly entertaining look at the bizarre and fatally flawed side of Australian television, full of long-running feuds, dark secrets, and a montage of the amazing number of times one character asks another ‘are you ok’ on the 2014 mini-series Secrets & Lies.’

Read: The Back Side of Television S2 review: quick-witted and incisive

The Last of Us – 4 Star review

>The Last of Us. Image: Binge.

‘There are several new touches that add a lot to the story and characterisation of these already well-established characters, touches that make this version of The Last of Us feel believable, unique, and engaging as a standalone piece of media – a show about finding something to live for when all hope is lost. This depiction of Joel, Ellie, and the world they inhabit is a strong one, and its deviances from the source material are overall successful in enhancing this telling of The Last of Us.’ 

Read: The Last of Us review: a strong, worthwhile adaptation

Strife – 4 star review

>BeBe Bettencourt, Maria Angelico, Olivia Junkeer, Bryony-Skillington and Asher Keddie in Strife. Image: Kane Skennar/Binge.

‘While we’re told Evelyn was once a fierce force for feminism in the Australian media, the series begins with her having ditched a marriage she just wasn’t feeling any more, leaving her more level-headed husband (Matt Day) somewhat perplexed. She’s also struggling with months-long writer’s block, which she only overcomes by inadvertently inventing confessional blogging with the online sensation: I Ended My Marriage Because of a Flat White.’

Read: Strife, Binge review: a piss-taking look at Australian ‘feminist’ website

Paul Dalgarno is author of the novels A Country of Eternal Light (2023) and Poly (2020); the memoir And You May Find Yourself (2015); and the creative non-fiction book Prudish Nation (2023). He was formerly Deputy Editor of The Conversation and joined ScreenHub as Managing Editor in 2022. X: @pauldalgarno. Insta: @dalgarnowrites