Most underrated streaming shows of 2023

You've read the 'best of' lists but these are the less-hyped 2023 shows that are definitely worth watching.

You’ve probably seen a few ‘best TV of 2023’ lists already – and if you haven’t already streamed ScreenHub’s favourites, you’ve probably at least heard of them. You might also have missed plenty of shows that were great, but weren’t … The Great.

These are the weirdly overlooked shows I personally loved, pondered, and raved about to friends this year.

Drops of God (Apple TV+)

Drops of God. Image: Apple TV+.

Why was nobody talking about this multilingual French–Japanese drama, adapted from a bestselling manga? Trying to tell people how complex and satisfying it is made me feel like a conspiracy nutter raving in front of a pinboard covered in red string.

When legendary French wine expert Alexandre Léger (Stanley Weber) dies in Tokyo, his will sets out an eccentric wine-tasting contest between his estranged daughter Camille (Fleur Geffrier) and his brilliant Japanese protégé Issei (Tomohisa Yamashita). The winner will inherit Alexandre’s vast, valuable wine collection and become the new publisher of international industry bible Guide Léger.

For Camille, who doesn’t drink wine, the tests are her dad’s sensory messages from beyond the grave, awakening the unorthodox palate he trained in her as a child. For Issei, they promise freedom from his wealthy but conservative and emotionally suffocating family. If you loved Succession and The Bear, check this out.

Crazy Fun Park (ABC ME)

Crazy Fun Park. Image: ABC.

When Crazy Fun Park won the Logie for Most Outstanding Children’s Program over beloved juggernaut Bluey, people were surprised. Not me, who’d already recommended Nicholas Verso’s excellent YA horror-comedy series back in February. The tone is beautifully handled – its portrayal of loss and grief is mature and compassionate, while its gothic fantasy is a tantalising (and age-appropriate) blend of Ghost, Beetlejuice, Five Nights at Freddy’s and The Lost Boys.

Chester (Henry Strand) is grieving his rambunctious best friend Mapplethorpe (Stacy Clausen), who died while exploring an abandoned local theme park (a custom-built set in Altona, Melbourne). But when Chester returns at night with new student Violetta (Hannah Ogawa), he learns that Mapplethorpe’s ghost now dwells at Crazy Fun Park, along with the souls of other young patrons who died there over the years. Together, they unravel the history of the Fun Kids … and of the park itself.

Bodies (Netflix)

Bodies. Image: Netflix.

Back in 2020, I got obsessed with the German time-loop mystery series Dark; this thematically rich UK limited series gives me the same feeling. Four police detectives discover the same naked body (Tom Mothersdale) on Longharvest Lane in London’s East End: DS Shahara Hasan (Amaka Okafor) in 2023; DS Charles Whiteman (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) in 1941; DI Alfred Hillinghead (Kyle Soller) in 1890; and DC Iris Maplewood (Shira Haas) in 2053. Satisfyingly, they find each other in archives and team up across time to solve a crime that points to a sinister politician (Stephen Graham).

Adapted by Paul Tomalin (Torchwood) from a graphic novel by Si Spencer, its genius is the way it weaves four genres, each redolent of their cultural context, into one police procedural: Victorian romance; WWII espionage noir; gritty counterterrorism action; dystopian future political thriller. The intricate, propulsive plot invites unstoppable bingeing; I got through six of the eight episodes in one session.

I also recommend the thematically similar and equally underrated The Lazarus Project (Stan): a Christopher Nolan-esque UK time-loop spy series in which covert agents vie to control a technology that can reset time to prevent global apocalypse. It’s cerebral and thrilling, anchored by an anguished central performance from Paapa Essediu.

Sometimes When We Touch (Paramount+)

Sometimes When We Touch. Image: Paramount+.

2023 was a strong year for music documentaries – I enjoyed the compassionately told Milli Vanilli (Paramount+) and the nostalgic examination of chartbusting songwriters Stock Aitken Waterman (SBS). And I lost my mind over Wham! (Netflix). But this three-part exploration of 1970s and 1980s soft rock sent me cruising down the world’s smoothest Spotify rabbit hole.

Named after the maudlin ballad by socially awkward Dan Hill, Sometimes When We Touch analyses an era of romantic, harmony-drenched music made for grown adults by studio-savvy artists with serious virtuosic chops. Before MTV, you could be an international superstar with a face like a dropped pie.

The careers of interviewees including Air Supply (‘All Out of Love’), Kenny Loggins (‘This Is It’), Ray Parker Jr. (‘A Woman Needs Love’), Rupert Holmes (‘Escape: The Piña Colada Song’) and Toni Tennille (‘Love Will Keep Us Together’) are insightfully interwoven into the cultural and economic shifts that drove – and then killed – the soft sound.

C*A*U*G*H*T (Stan)

C*A*U*G*H*T. Image: Stan.

It’s safe to say critics didn’t like Kick Gurry’s comedy about kidnapped Australian soldiers forced to make viral hostage videos. Not me! I loved this tasteless show! Zen-like, you must release your expectation that it will be ‘good’ and the story will be ‘plausible’. Then you can laugh aloud at moments like when a generically swarthy guard soldier emerges from a hut wearing a ridiculous gold turban and says on his walkie-talkie, ‘I knew my hat was in here!’

Let’s face it: foreign interventions in sovereign nations are repugnant, and soldiers are frequently not heroic. So it’s refreshing that this show embraces the ugliness of military adventurism, and reveals how both liberation movements and the colonial propaganda against them unfold in and through the media, using pompous and complicit producers and actors.

Also deconstructing jingoistic military myth-making this year was Rogue Heroes (SBS On Demand), in which Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) gives a rollicking geezer treatment to the WWII birth of Britain’s Special Air Service regiment – without sugar-coating its origins as an anarchic outlet for violent misfits (led by Connor Swindells, Jack O’Connell and Alfie Allen) to blow shit up and murder people. It’s wildly entertaining – but also reveals the cynical nihilism lurking behind the glorification of war.

Still Up (Apple TV+)

Still Up. Image: Apple TV+.

As a night owl in a world organised for early risers, I was thrilled to find my people in this eight-episode ‘almost romantic comedy’ about two London insomniac pals – busy waitress Lisa (Antonia Thomas) and agoraphobic journalist Danny (Craig Roberts) – whose attraction builds as they coach each other through slapstick social scenarios via text messages and video calls.

The stakes are pretty low-key and sitcom-ish, making this ideal to watch when you’re revenge bedtime procrastinating. The casting was also intertextually comforting for me: I loved Roberts in Submarine and Thomas in Misfits, so seeing them onscreen, onscreen, felt beguilingly parasocial. Some critics didn’t find their chemistry overtly romantic enough, but for me Still Up brilliantly captures the kind of treasured intimacy where you don’t have to mask your weirdness or pettiness, and you know they’ll always be there for you in your phone.

If you also enjoy this brand of sardonic humour, and you loved Misfits, definitely also check out the loose, hilarious superhero comedy Extraordinary (Disney+) by debutant creator and writer Emma Moran, in which everyone gets a superpower on their 18th birthday except 25-year-old slacker Jen (Máiréad Tyers).

Read: Top shows to stream in 2023: best of the year

Mel Campbell is a freelance cultural critic and university lecturer who writes on film, TV, literature and media, with particular interests in history, costume, screen adaptations and futurism. Her first book was the nonfiction investigation Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit (2013), and she has co-written two romantic comedy novels with Anthony Morris: The Hot Guy (2017) and Nailed It (2019).