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  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

2023: My Year in TV

RECAP/RAVE


Spoilers for: All the shows you should have watched last year/my so-called-offscreen life.



My twelve months of 2023 featured broken bones, strengthened friendships and love stories, loss, career dreams achieved, epic mistakes made, and trivialities let the fuck go.


Here's the best tv of my last year, and the lessons the 2023 small screen taught me about recovering and releasing my own shit. Listed, self-obsessively, for the month I happened to watch or start watching, not when these shows actually aired. Feast on my spoils!


January: Shrinking


ON: AppleTV+

WHY IT HITS HARD:

It's an unapologetic dramedy where obsessive grief meets recklessness, and it actually feels good to mess up. Chosen family surges strong in this ensemble treat--the show explores what happens when you let your people lead you out of your fears.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I got onto film sets, asked questions, failed, let go, and learned from my team. Made a bunch of new friends along the way. I gave in to other people's belief in me. Again and again.



February: Love is Blind


ON: Netflix. Except for when they can't their shit together for a live reunion.

WHY IT HITS HARD:

Like it or not, LIB is a part of your cultural ecosystem in the 2020's. It's setting the gold-wine-glass standard for reality dating tv and it's ubiquitous. From legal scandals to loving couples, we can't escape. Everyone I know loves to hate or love or mock this show. And, fandom aside, I've never been more sure--love's not blind. We need to see each other to see ourselves. But I'm here for the dumpster fire experiment (hopefully with less human rights carnage to come).



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I've never appreciated my love story more. Gradual sexy friendship grew organically from mutual trust. Eyes wide open.



March: Yellowjackets


ON: Paramount+

WHY IT HITS HARD:

Fractured female friendships are the ultimate dark love story, and this show taps that vault of vicious joy better than any other this year (maybe this decade). With characters I can't wait to see perish and rise, the tension kills me. The dialogue singes my nose hairs with black comedy, macabre motivation, and hope. Just watch/rewatch already.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I've never appreciated my writing partner more. After thirty years of friendship, we are battle worn in the best way imaginable from motivating each other symbiotically, week in, week out. Hannah graduated from screenwriting school this year, and I know true Dance Moms' style pride for her like no other. The girl's unstoppable. I'd be stranded in the wilderness of Canada with her any day.



April: Beef


ON: Netflix

WHY IT HITS HARD:

It's raw. It's angry. It's true. It's absolutely pathetic despair in its most violent, and then, ultimately, in its most forgiving form. If you don't watch it, you're doomed to seven years of George's weird phallic sculpture art.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I got tougher. That made me funnier. It also made me relent less and less. This year sharpened my own path. The story. Kindness. And Me. (And I don't miss flipping assholes off on the Texas highways. Thanks, tepid Seattle drivers.)



May: I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson


ON: Netflix

WHY IT HITS HARD:

I regularly stop and laugh out loud when I picture moments, stills, or products from this show. I still call people my "shirt brother" when they dress like me, and I aspire to get the same hair cut as a dog so I can have an awesome second girlfriend. If you don't like it, I posit that you can exit promptly.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I gravitated towards doggedly ambitious, wacky dreamers this year. One, like the gorgeous creative Giovanna below, inspired me to trust myself inside out. That's a "Yes And... Fuck Yes!" friend right there.


June: The Bear


ON: FX on Hulu

WHY IT HITS HARD:

I've never liked chaos more. From the tintinnabulation of utensils thrown in rage, to voices raised in agony--I love panicking with this questing, wild Chicago culinary gang. Carmy and Sydney fight for the dream of a Michelin Star and their aching need becomes our own. Their creative vision (plus an insanely delicious series of scenes with Jamie Lee Curtis this season) still lives rent free in my mind.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I can't quit this thing called playing pretend. Writing scripts and making films ran my year, stressed me out, and lost me sleep. I loved it. Screenwriting shapes my fantasies, and it forces me to learn more about the art and business of this industry (and more about myself) than I always enjoy. But I push. Every morsel of joy worth the work in the kitchen.



July: The Righteous Gemstones


ON: Max (It's always HBO to me, ya jerks.)

WHY IT HITS HARD:

I can't get over how messy these bitches are. How their far-flung mayhems, backyard monster truck rallies, and piles of hypocrisy feel so honest, so vulnerable. As the show lives on hyperbole, we can hide away from the parts of ourselves that relate too easily to the trifling, adulterous, greedy, repressed, holier-than-thou shenanigans of the Gemstone clan. We worship at our own altars of folly, but laughing at Gemstones makes at least this slothful whore feel like a saint.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I'm catching myself now. Becoming my mom when pissy in traffic. Grinding my liberal axe when confronted with hate in any form--like father, like daughter. We are the windows to each other's development always--this family experiment thing. Visiting with my brother, normally in Hong Kong, brought out both my joy and my inner Judy. No regurts. :)



August: Reservation Dogs


ON: FX on Hulu

WHY IT HITS HARD:

I can't praise the poetic mythos and the blunt comedy this show perfects enough. It meanders with flashbacks rich in character complexity, flickers with a supernatural world that is ever-present, and never sacrifices the highly human pain and stakes at the show's core. These gorgeous characters had to grow up, but I already miss them.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

At my college reunion, I literally went hoarse staying up all night, re-cementing bonds with my wonderful liberal farts friends. Boundless dreamers ignite me. I remembered often this year: surround yourself with people who help you play, and invent a new reality--together.



September: Schmigadoon!


ON: AppleTV+

WHY IT HITS HARD:

It's silly. It's bold. It's spectacle. It's a tender pastiche, but also completely new. It's devoid of self-consciousness and keeps a strong narrative structure, but Schmigadoon! (especially in season two) also allows its pitch-perfect-character-actor cast to do what musicals are made to do--surrender to the song.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I don't avoid a tangent with Jeremiah. I never run out of conversation or zany, open ease. I can be utterly boring, or my most over-the-top Rachel Berry theatre kid self. There is power in surrender to the good--and I have some every day.



October: The Fall of the House of Usher


ON: Netflix

WHY IT HITS HARD:

I wish I didn't love to see rich, corrupt people die so much, but I can't help it. It's divine. Pair it with sensational, scene-chewing acting and the terrifying consequences of wealth and weakness--you've got the best, most binge-worthy horror show of the year. Just don't lose your lover's cat and replace it with the Devil, okay? It never goes well.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I led a banger writers' room for Seattle's Horror 48 Hour Film Project. Brutality as art feels good (sometimes).



November: Scott Pilgrim Takes Off


ON: Netflix

WHY IT HITS HARD:

Any good emo-leaning kid loves Scott Pilgrim. With the entire original cast and much of the creative team reunited, this animated show hits all the sweet familiar rhythms of the franchise and also mixes in the new: new love stories, themes of self-defeat and yearning, and some the silliest, sickest, stupidest fight sequences I've seen on screen in a second. Young Neil couldn't have written it. I've already rewatched, and you should, too.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I can't predict my own future. And I can't (though I might try) spoil the present calculating the imaginary loss to come. But I can play with the love Jeremiah gives, and trust myself to adapt his music, his adventures, his goofs, to my own story--not just for us, but for me. And nothing's stranger than letting love's magic fly.



December: Fargo


ON: FX on Hulu

WHY IT HITS HARD:

Do you like watching characters eat themselves alive for pride's sake? How about seeing someone likable as fuck pull themselves from the edge of crisis to win the day? Love a double--nay--a triple crossing? Then this show's for you. Expect your neck hairs to rise, as well as your standards for character-driven suspense. Plus, John Hamm in a hot tub.



HOW IT SHAPED ME THIS YEAR:

I crave stories like I need air and water. I want to write stories that give me permission to deviate from all expectations of me while still writing about my heart. I want to watch myself bleed in the form of another person. I want to watch myself change. I know that television can start internal evolutions on couches everywhere, and I'm never done planning my next revolt. Just watch.



How did TV help you be in 2023?



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