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Looper TV Awards 2023: Best Actors, Moments, Shows & More

It was a pretty great year for movies, and there was just as much brilliance to be found on the small screen in 2023 as well. A handful of veteran shows like "Succession" and "The Crown" took their final bows, setting up a competitive Emmys ceremony in early 2024. Meanwhile, beloved series like "The Bear" and "Abbott Elementary" continued their winning streaks, showing absolutely zero sign of sophomore slumps. And that's not even to mention new shows that blew audiences away like "The Last of Us" and "Beef."

Armed with that knowledge, the staff at Looper decided that we would hold our own awards ceremony to see which shows reigned supreme. From invaluable ensembles to shocking reality shows to series that scared us, we cooked up categories to pay appropriate homage to a stellar year in TV. So, without further ado, here are our selections for the best moments, shows, performances, and episodes that aired on television in 2023.

Best Drama - The Last of Us

HBO's "The Last of Us" is a remarkable work of adaptation. Against all odds — considering just how often live-action video game adaptations fail — the nine-episode series recaptures the magic of one of the most critically acclaimed video games in recent history without losing much in the process. As showrunners, "Chernobyl" creator Craig Mazin and the original game's creative director Neil Druckmann know precisely when moments from the game benefit from a direct translation into film and when to break new ground.

Series leads Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, for example, don't look all that much like the digital avatars of their characters Joel and Ellie. Their performances, though, are so effective it's hardly controversial to suggest these versions of the characters rival their video game counterparts.

Like the most effective entries in the genre, "The Last of Us" is a zombie show in name only. In fact, the ways that not just Joel and Ellie but also the numerous stand-outs in the large cast like Bill (Nick Offerman), Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), and David (Scott Shepherd) all process trauma are painfully and recognizably human. Both love and loss thrive in this zombie apocalypse.

"The Last of Us" ends the same way as its video game inspiration, because there's no other way it could possibly wrap up. But while that ending is the game's high point, it's the stories the series tells along the way — each uniquely tragic — that add up to the best TV drama of 2023. -Sam Skopp

Best Comedy - The Bear

It's really hard to make a great season of television. It's arguably even harder to follow one up with another, equally impressive 2nd season. "The Bear" has now done both.

Where Season 1 of the Hulu comedy-drama series is tightly focused on Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) and his efforts to restore his late brother's restaurant to glory, Season 2 expands in scope and becomes a series of vignettes. Every character gets major development, from aspiring pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) to everyone's favorite cousin, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who gets Season 2's strongest episode, "Forks," all to himself. And that's without mentioning the Olivia Colman cameo, or the Christmas flashback episode "Fishes" — one of the most stressful hours of television you'll ever see led by the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Bob Odenkirk, and Sarah Paulson.

None of that might make "The Bear" Season 2 sound especially funny, but it is. You can debate what genre it technically falls into, but we're putting it in the same category as a "Fleabag" or a "Reservation Dogs." It's a show that uses the shorter form typically reserved for straight comedies to explore a much wider range of emotional experiences. It shows that you don't have to sacrifice great acting or writing in order to get big laughs. Sometimes, real life and real people are enough to make comedy gold, and you get a lot more bang for your buck that way. "The Bear" is a show that threads the needle beautifully, and Season 2 is an absolute triumph. -Rick Stevenson

The Ryan Murphy Could Never Award for Best Horror Series - The Fall of the House of Usher

Ryan Murphy's "American Horror Story" franchise has been a mixed bag in the eyes of critics and even many of its fans. As such, he'd probably love to create a series that's as biting, spooky, and hilarious as Mike Flanagan's "The Fall of the House of Usher," which admirably combines scares with social satire.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" updates Edgar Allan Poe's work for our modern times, reimagining the author's classic tales of terror as macabre events that destroy a very wealthy family. Flanagan's chiller takes several individual Poe stories and weaves them into a singular, cohesive narrative that honors the core elements of the writer's work while bringing fresh ideas to the table. The Netflix series is a commentary on the decay of modern America, lambasting everything from social inequality to the pharmaceutical industry to exploitative medical schemes. Poe would be proud.

Meanwhile, Murphy's satires, including "The Politician" and "Hollywood," just don't have the same impact or ruthless bite. They're perfectly fine as entertaining time-passers, but "The Fall of the House of Usher" is peak television that showcases a talented creator working to the best of his abilities and defying expectations. Flanagan's work has never been this funny in the past, and the nightmare fuel he's synonymous with remains intact. -Kieran Fisher

Best Animated Series - Harley Quinn

For years, "Harley Quinn" has held it down as one of the funniest, most ambitious adult animated series on the air. And it continued that trajectory with Season 4, pushing the show's colorful cast of characters into new, exciting directions.

This time around, Harley (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) are largely separated but still making their relationship work. Harley's giving general do-gooding a go by becoming a member of the Bat-family. Meanwhile, Ivy heads up the Legion of Doom by embarking on more socially conscious evil. They both face hurdles and lose themselves a little when they're not together for balance. Of course, character development is nice and all, but let's also not forget how downright hilarious the show can be when it's firing on all cylinders.

Bane (James Adomian) is always great, especially this season when he absurdly learns how to make pasta by hand. And while "Harley Quinn" can take potshots at various DC characters, it's abundantly clear the show respects the source material. It'll point out obscure, weird lore but also represent the characters in an authentic way based on how they were conceived. And not for nothing, but Harley and Ivy genuinely have one of the purest, most iconic queer love stories in all of television that manages to avoid the pitfalls LGBTQ+ romances tend to face in media. -Mike Bedard

Best Drama Episode - Long, Long Time (The Last of Us)

As if 2023 wasn't hard enough, the long-awaited adaptation of "The Last of Us" descended on the world, providing a regularly scheduled dose of devastation. No single hour of the Emmy-nominated show did it more effectively than Episode 3, "Long, Long Time." In a show full of brilliant character pairings, this beautiful bottle episode introduces us to Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), two strangers who find each other after the world ends and start a new one of their own. The electric chemistry between Offerman and Bartlett immerses viewers in a love story that was hinted at in the games, but not fully explored until this stellar episode of television. 

It's a bold move for a horror-thriller series to steer so far away from the bloodshed and suspense that, by this point, the audience has spent two hours in. But "Long, Long Time" is the bittersweet sigh of relief that sets itself apart from the rest of the show. Sure, there are moments of danger, where the home sweet home that Bill and Frank have built together is tested, but watching these two live out their best lives until their end is an example of why "The Last of Us" worked so brilliantly. -Nick Staniforth

Best Comedy Episode - Forks (The Bear)

"The Bear" is a show characterized by extreme stress and constant tension — which is just one of the reasons why the 7th episode of Season 2, "Forks," proved to be such a breath of fresh air. After constantly butting heads with his "cousin" Carmy at the sandwich shop they're turning into a fine dining establishment, Ebon Moss-Bacharach's Richie is sent to "stage" at a high-end restaurant, and what unfolds is entirely unexpected. The start of the episode feels surreal, like some sort of dream sequence: Richie enters a dark, glimmering hallway and is immediately thrust into a totally unfamiliar situation, where he's asked to polish forks for hours on end. Once he ditches his bad attitude, everything changes for Richie, who's suddenly helping with the line and learning the ropes with an open mind for once.

"Forks" focuses completely on Richie and his stint at the fictional restaurant Ever, and it's an incredibly effective, efficient way to develop this character without delving into saccharine territory. Slowly, Richie realizes that fine dining isn't pretentious or silly, but a very real way to provide people with an amazing experience — which he ultimately sums up by revamping and hand-delivering traditional deep-dish Chicago-style pizza to a table that's set to leave town without ever trying the local delicacy. Throw in a soothing cameo from Oscar-winner Olivia Colman — who plays Ever's largely absent and unseen Chef Terry — and a pitch-perfect Taylor Swift needle drop, and there's zero question that you end up with one of the best TV comedy episodes not just from 2023, but in recent memory. -Nina Starner

Best Horror Episode - The Masque of the Red Death (The Fall of the House of Usher)

In classic Shakespearean tragedy, the audience knows in advance the characters will die. The heartbreak comes from understanding the inevitablity and watching helplessly as the events unfold. "The Fall of the House of Usher" from Mike Flanagan utilizes this strategy, as viewers know Roderick Usher's (Bruce Greenwood) children will die, but the manner in which each one happens still manages to shock. And nowhere is this proven more effective than in Episode 2 — "The Masque of the Red Death."

Perry (Sauriyan Sapkota) is the first of the Usher children to die, and he goes out in one of the most gruesome deaths depicted in all of 2023. Much of the episode focuses on his plans to host a high-end party at one of the family company's abandoned industrial warehouses, which will culminate with the sprinklers going off to indicate that it's time for everyone to get frisky. The only problem is that the tanks aren't filled with water but with corrosive chemicals. Perry, along with pretty much all of the other party guests, begin to dissolve, screaming and clawing their way to the exit in an attempt to escape. The sprinklers going off is teased throughout the episode and when it finally happens in the most horrific way possible, it results in a disgusting payoff as the warehouse full of guests meets a gruesome fate in a deranged display of body horror. 

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is full of terrifying deaths and horrific moments, but "The Masque of the Red Death" threw down the gauntlet. It let audiences know exactly what they were getting into early in the series. If one could stomach this episode, they could handle pretty much anything else the horror of 2023 could throw at them. -Mike Bedard

Best Ensemble Show - Succession

"Succession" is, unquestionably, one of the best shows in recent memory thanks in no small part to its absolutely outstanding cast. Jesse Armstrong's sharp, unexpectedly funny, and deeply cutting series wrapped up its run in 2023 after four seasons, and when it comes to choosing between the excellent performances from the final batch of episodes, it's impossible to pick just one. "Succession" works so well not just because the actors are individually talented. It works because the chemistry between the group of them is undeniable.

With Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, and Jeremy Strong as the central Roy siblings Shiv, Roman, and Kendall — as well as Alan Ruck's Connor, the oft-forgotten "eldest boy" — "Succession" already has a pretty deep bench. Of course, that's to say nothing of an ensemble that includes Fisher Stevens, Justine Lupe, Alexander Skarsgård, Dagmara Domińczyk, Arian Moayed, and the incomparable J. Smith-Cameron. 

Everyone works perfectly against literally anyone else in the cast, but still, certain pairings shine. Culkin, Strong, and Snook's scene during the series finale, where we see the adult siblings bond without complications for the first (and likely last) time, is a moment of pure joy before the storm. Snook and her on-screen husband Matthew Macfadyen's fight during the season's 7th episode, "Tailgate Party," is as sickeningly vicious as it is perfectly performed. Culkin's off-screen friendship with Smith-Cameron inspired Roman's dynamic with her character Gerri Kellman, which is both fascinating and depraved. 

There's not a bad performance to be found on "Succession," and each performer works in tandem to ensure that the scripts stick the landing every single time. -Nina Starner

Best Reality TV Show - Jury Duty

The mere idea of "Jury Duty" sounds like an absolute disaster. After finding a complete stranger via a Craigslist ad, the show, created by "The Office" veterans Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, faced a potentially impossible task. This stranger, a kindly guy named Ronald Gladden, had to go through the entire process of a trial without realizing it was staged. The actors around him — James Marsden appears as himself, but every other juror and person within the "legal system" is playing a character — have to keep Gladden happy and complacent without giving the game away. After the "case" is "settled," Gladden will be told that the whole thing is fake. What could go wrong? Probably a lot!

Luckily for Stupnitsky, Eisenberg, and the entire cast and crew, they struck gold with Gladden, who turned out to be ... one of the nicest guys in the world. Through compassion and sheer kindness, he formed very real bonds with everyone else on the show (without ever realizing it was, in fact, a show), and "Jury Duty" became one of the most heartwarming TV offerings in recent memory. 

As Marsden told Fresh Air, the intention was to send Gladden on a "hero's journey" without him realizing it, and this goal was most definitely accomplished. Not only did Gladden come off as a wildly understanding and good guy, but he was thrilled to be awarded $100,000 for his role — and after the show picked up multiple Emmy nominations, Gladden even received an overall deal with Amazon Studios. Sometimes, everything falls into place for a reality TV series, and as long as Gladden never gets milkshake-ducked, the legacy of "Jury Duty" will be that the show managed to portray real human connection and generosity of spirit. -Nina Starner

Best Breakout Performance - Bella Ramsey (The Last of Us)

Bella Ramsey appeared in a handful of projects before 2023 — including a scene-stealing role as Lyanna Mormont on "Game of Thrones" and the title role in Lena Dunham's adaptation of "Catherine Called Birdy" — but the actor hit a new level of fame thanks to "The Last of Us." Ramsey ended up booking the lead role in the highly anticipated video game adaptation and they immediately charmed audiences as Ellie, a disgruntled young girl in a dystopian world who's immune to the Cordyceps virus that has infected millions.

Ramsey shares the screen with older and more established actors like Melanie Lynskey, Anna Torv, and, of course, Pedro Pascal, but it's impossible to look away whenever they're on-screen. Throughout just nine episodes, Ramsey has to play such an intense, wide range of emotions, from a flashback episode that explores Ellie's budding romance with her best friend Riley (Storm Reid) to Ellie's unexpected connection with a young deaf boy named Sam (Keivonn Woodard). This is to say nothing of the harrowing episode where Ellie is captured by cannibals and barely escapes, finally breaking down in Joel's arms when he manages to rescue her. Ellie's life is impossibly hard, and Ramsey makes that clear.

Perhaps the very best thing about Ramsey's performance as Ellie, though, is their ability to show Ellie's few precious moments of joy. The young girl loves a good pun, and when she gets to experience a rare moment of levity, it gives the viewer a break as well. Ramsey is a seriously gifted performer, and it's clear that their turn in "The Last of Us" has made them a major Hollywood player. -Nina Starner

Best WTF Moment - Logan Roy's death (Succession)

We all knew Logan Roy (Brian Cox) would die, but nobody thought he would die like that. During Season 4 of "Succession," audiences across the world were left flabbergasted when Cox's character — arguably the sun that all other "Succession" characters revolved around for the vast majority of the show — died suddenly and unceremoniously during Episode 3 of the final outing, titled "Connor's Wedding." (It is, we suppose, a truth universally acknowledged that weddings on HBO dramas never go as planned.) As his children — Connor, Shiv, Kendall, and Roman — sail next to the island of Manhattan for, well, Connor's wedding, they get a call from Shiv's estranged husband and Logan's right-hand man Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) saying that their father, who's aboard his private jet en route to Sweden, is sick. Before long, he's dead.

The reactions from the kids run the gamut and, somehow, they kind of mirror the waves of shock experienced by viewers the world over upon seeing that Logan died. Shiv, upon hearing the news, says she "can't have that." Roman insults his father over the phone, ostensibly in the last moments they have together. Kendall demands that his assistant get "the best airplane medical expert in the world," and Tom is uncharacteristically gentle with Shiv, calling her "honey" over the phone. Nobody goes to find Connor. 

Logan Roy's death is a stunning achievement in subverting expectations, thanks to showrunner Jesse Armstrong's approach: the rich and powerful man dies sadly and unceremoniously after collapsing next to an airplane toilet, and nothing, not even money, can bring him back from death. -Nina Starner

The Taylor Sheridan Award for Most Expansive TV Universe - The Boys Universe

It's an impressive feat that the world of "The Boys," having been stretched out through scandal, swearing, and ridiculously shocking visuals, has stolen the attention of some other notable supes in Hollywood. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to fly through turbulent times, the battle between Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and Homelander (Antony Starr) rages on unabated, and we can't get enough of it or anything it's connected to. 2023 saw the launch of the series' first live-action spin-off, "Gen V," and the best surprise of that college-set series is that it is just as good as the original. 

After three seasons of establishing the rules, alliances, and ancient cape-covered history of "The Boys," "Gen V" was allowed to work on its own while still acknowledging where it came from. With a fresh cast of characters, a distinct setting, and bloody disgusting superpowers wreaking havoc over everything, Season 1 of "Gen V" delivered a compelling story that expanded the world of the franchise in all the right ways. 

"The Boys" is developing into a universe that other franchises could only dream of, and it's doing it with super-sized d*** jokes. To top it all off, 2023 also brought news that we might have an additional Mexico-set "The Boys" spin-off to look forward to in the future on top of a potential 2nd season of the animated series "The Boys Presents: Diabolical." -Nick Staniforth

The 'It's Me. Hi. I'm the Problem' Award for Best Villain - Baylan Skoll (Ahsoka)

With seemingly more "Star Wars" projects than ever before, the franchise has become hit-or-miss for many fans. However, in 2023, a clear highlight emerged in the form of the late Ray Stevenson's portrayal of a new interplanetary threat — Baylan Skoll from "Ahsoka."

Stevenson's outstanding performance elevated the character, but credit is due when it comes to the writing behind his characterization. He's a former Jedi who abandoned that way of the Force but hasn't fully adopted the way of the Sith. He merely wants to create a better galaxy and believes bringing Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) back is the way to do it. He isn't fully evil; he has a code of honor and is a man of his word, as evidenced by him allowing Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) to locate Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi). He exists between the two extremes of the Force, which is made tangible through his use of an orange lightsaber rather than a pure red one.

Baylan Skoll is the perfect villain because even though he causes trouble, viewers can understand where he's coming from. He also represents a perfect foil to Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who has also stepped away from the Jedi teachings a bit but remains firmly on the side of doing good. Baylan shows there's still plenty of room to explore new characters within the framework of Star Wars. It's a shame the character's future is up in the air given Ray Stevenson's passing. -Mike Bedard

'Don't Call it a Comeback, I Been Here for Years' Award - Mark Hamill (The Fall of the House of Usher)

Mark Hamill didn't go anywhere. He's been at the center of the "Star Wars" franchise for decades, ensuring that he'll always be an ever-present part of mainstream pop culture. However, "The Fall of the House of Usher" reminded viewers that there's more to Hamill's arsenal than lightsabers, and he's particularly great at playing morally questionable characters.

Mike Flanagan's Netflix series sees Hamill portray Arthur Pym, the lawyer and right-hand man of the Usher family. He's essentially a fixer who does the family's dirty work for them, and he always wears black gloves to ensure that his hands don't get too dirty. While speaking to Netflix, Hamill said, "I was intrigued by the fact that they would consider me for this part ... Why would they think of me?" We can't say for sure why they did, but we are simply glad that they did.

Of course, it's difficult to hate Hamill in any role, even when he's playing amoral characters. Pym is awful in many ways, but Hamill's dry wit makes the character easy to like. Although "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a one-off miniseries, it's nice to know that Hamill will re-team with Flanagan for "The Life of Chuck." -Kieran Fisher

Most Underrated Superhero Show That Isn't From Marvel or DC

Shocking as it may seem, we're still in an age where some viewers will turn their noses up at the idea of watching an animated show, let alone one boasting hour-long episodes. It's borderline criminal that Amazon Prime's "Invincible" isn't mentioned alongside some of the other blockbuster small-screen outings being orchestrated by Marvel Studios, or indeed Amazon's own "The Boys." 

Maintaining that Saturday morning cartoon vibe but with added blood and guts, "Invincible" has a lot more to deliver than super-powered people knocking the ever-loving hell out of one another. During its four-episode 2023 return, some of the best moments from "Invincible" are its quiet character reflections. Seeing Omni-Man (J. K. Simmons) consider flying into a star to end it all isn't just one of the show's most stunning sequences, but it's a testament to its storytelling that we take his side given the monstrous father-son altercation that unfolded in Season 1's finale.

With complex character arcs like this, "Invincible" has every reason to become the next "Game of Thrones," particularly with the stupendous amount of award-winning talent that would be an easy draw if it were live-action. Instead, the likes of Steven Yeun, Zazie Beetz, Walton Goggins, Sandra Oh, and Seth Rogen's impressive voice work is being overlooked. Here's hoping that with the second half of Season 2 now being in such high demand, the audience for "Invincible" may get as big and strong as Omni-Man's facial hair. -Nick Staniforth

How did Looper decide on these awards?

Choosing who would appear on this list wasn't an easy task for Looper's editors and writers. But the process of getting there certainly was enlightening! First, our head editors picked 15 categories for our award show that best represented our scope of entertainment coverage. Our entertainment writers and editors sent in their selections for each award category, relying on their professional opinion, critical analysis, and love of television series. Whoever made it on this list did so because their work was so memorable that we're still chatting about it at the water cooler. 

After our team cast their overall selections per category, the top four results from each award option became our official nominations. Our team then voted for their favorites, and the most popular choice in each category won. While some award categories were dominated by series like "The Last of Us" and "The Bear," others battled it out for awards like best animated series, best ensemble show, and the most underrated superhero series.

However, there were several other shows that appeared in our award categories more than once that we also want to shoutout for bringing incredible moments of television to us in 2023: "I Think You Should Leave," "The Other Two," "Reservation Dogs," "Abbott Elementary," and "The Curse" captured our attention in ways we won't forget anytime soon.