From the Happy Valley showdown to the Big Brother love triangle: top TV moments of 2023

From the Happy Valley showdown to the Big Brother love triangle: top TV moments of 2023

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Monday, 11th December 2023
Clockwise L-R: The Bear (credit: Chuck Hodes/FX), Squid Game: The Challenge (credit: Pete Dadds/Netflix), Happy Valley (credit: BBC), The Piano (credit: Channel 4), Doctor Who (credit: James Pardon/BBC) and And Just Like That... (credit: HBO Max)

Peak TV keeps peaking. From record-breaking reality TV to Taylor Swift needledrops, and deaths that were all too real, 2023 saw too many great moments to count.

Here are just some that lingered long after the credits rolled.

Catherine and Tommy's final showdown in Happy Valley

The seven year gap between the second and final series of the Yorkshire-based crime drama set huge expectations for the final showdown between Sarah Lancashire's superheroic Sergeant Cawood and James Norton's evil incarnate Tommy Lee Royce.

The finale sees Tommy on the run and finding his way into Catherine's home, and although the former "nonentity" was never really a match for the latter's fierce wit and rectitude, it was electrifying to see Norton go toe-to-toe with one of the all-time great actors. They went for the jugular with each and every one of Wainwright's fiery lines.

As Tommy ultimately self-immolates (which might be the kindest thing he's ever done), Wainwright and co. ensured Happy Valley went out in a blaze of glory. — HB

The ‘Jenry’ and ‘Jatty’ love triangle in Big Brother

Big Brother is always watching… and in his ITV return he cast his watchful eye on a three-way flirtation between a Scunthorpe lawyer fabricating a Downton Abbey accent (Jordan), a polyamorous ‘hippy’ and geriatric doctor (Matty), and a food writer and self-proclaimed Tory (Henry).

As Jordan fawned over Matty, Henry secretly held a candle for his best friend Jordan. Jordan cited that Matty was being flirty, which Matty maintained was simply a facet of his personality. After many diary room tears, and tense drawn-out chats, Jordan and Henry are now happily flaunting their new ‘boyfriend’ status via their social medias. — ECS

Bill plays the piano for Frank in The Last of Us

Few were surprised when the gruff and powerfully bearded Nick Offerman, best known for playing Parks and Recreation's sage of self-reliance, Ron Swanson, was cast in a zombie apocalypse drama. In fact, when we were first introduced to Bill in The Last of Us, it felt like we were watching a kind of horrible Parks and Rec spin-off, where Ron gets the libertarian 'peace and quiet' he always dreamed of. Albeit at the cost of all his friends and family.

But when Murray Bartlett's Frank charmed his way into Bill's lonely camp for a shower and a hot meal, it led to one of the most poignant meet-cutes ever televised. When Bill takes to his piano to save Linda Ronstadt's love ballad Long Long Time from being sullied by Frank's dissonant tones, his hardened macho facade falls away in the graceful light of his delicate rendition. And Frank, like the rest of us, is blindsided.

— "Who's the girl you're singing about?"

— "There is no girl."

— "I know." — HB

Kim Cattrall’s unexpected cameo in And Just Like That… 

One of the most prolific foursomes (after The Beatles, ABBA, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) transformed into a trio, after Kim Cattrall made her feelings clear about reprising her role of Samantha Jones in the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That…

Cattrall had been very firm in a Variety interview back in 2022 about the fact she would not be returning to the role, after an alleged decade-long spat with her co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis - so it was a surprise for all when series two delivered a Cattrall cameo… even if it did last a grand total of 71 seconds. — ECS

Reality TV sees its biggest ever single cash prize in Squid Game: The Challenge

What a biting satire Squid Game was. Thank god things haven’t got that bad in real life. Right?

This year, the drama got a reality show makeover, in spectacular fashion. Filmed in Britain, 456 contestants vied for $4.56 million, reality TV’s biggest ever single cash prize. Unlike the 2021 version, nobody went home in a body bag. Just as compelling, though, was the building and wilting of high-stakes alliances. 

The show has been commissioned for a second series. Who knows what high-concept franchise will be brought into the real world next. Actual Voight-Kampff test, anyone? — JM

Richie sings Taylor Swift in The Bear

From the moment he first barged into the kitchen and compounded the chaos with his anger management issues, Ebon Moss-Bachrach's Richie was arguably everyone's least favourite character in The Bear. His one redeeming quality was his undying love for his daughter, Eva.

The strongest virtue of the show itself, however, is that it loves all of its characters enough to afford them all a shot at redemption. Still divorced and scrambling for purpose in series two, Richie is sent by his 'cousin' and Head Chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) to an upscale restaurant to study waiting. Initially defiant, something clicks when he witnesses the staff elevating their humdrum work to a militarily precise art form. Come the final scene, we see a man transformed, racing through Chicago while he euphorically roars along to Love Story, that timeless banger which also happens to be sung by Eva's favourite artist.            

You might come for the chaos, but it's the tender moments like this that make The Bear sing. — HB

The death of Logan Roy in Succession

It was always going to happen, yet still caught the world by surprise. The fictional media doyen’s stature was of no help to him when he passed unceremoniously, collapsing off-screen in an airplane toilet. His kids back on the ground were left making shuddering last remarks over the phone to the father they loved, but could never forgive. 

Logan Roy’s death took place on the third episode of the fourth and final series, clearing the runway for seven episodes’ worth of chaos. Everything that came after ultimately flowed from a single misadventure in an airborne latrine. — JM

The UK gets its first LGBTQIA+ dating show in I Kissed a Boy

Gay icon and ‘cupid’ Dannii Minogue headed the LGBTQIA+ answer to Love Island in a sun-drenched farmhouse in Italy. Through the course of eight episodes, she helped 16 participants find love, with the couples committing to each other via “kiss offs.”

As well as being ground-breaking in terms of queer programming, the dating show also taught the whole of X (formerly Twitter) the word Masseria (Italian for farmhouse), through consistent parroting of it from Dannii and the contestants. — ECS

Becks goes Paxman on Posh in Beckham

David and Victoria Beckham have always embodied that seminal moment when the worlds of celebrity and football collided, so it's surprising that it took so long for a documentary like Beckham to surface.

Perhaps the famously brand-conscious subjects had something to do with the hold-up, but they were admirably candid here. Beckham did have to remind his wife to "be honest" at one point, though. In a hilariously Paxman-esque grilling that swiftly went viral, Beckham is seen hounding 'Posh Spice' after she claims to have come from a working class background. Apparently her Dad drove her to school in a Rolls Royce. — HB

Charlotte and King George’s love story in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story

Through flashbacks to a teenaged Charlotte (India Ria Amarteifio, Sex Education), Queen Charlotte gave a backstory to Bridgerton’s snuff-snorting, stony-faced queen (Golda Rosheuvel).

Based off the real King George III and Queen Charlotte who wedded in 1761, Bridgerton’s effigy of the couple soon fell apart as George announced his plan for them to move into separate properties. Theirs was a classic meet-cute to enemies to lovers story, with plenty of the steamy scenes Bridgerton is known for. They did have 15 children after all. — ECS

@royaltelevisionsociety Did Golda Rosheuvel have any hand in casting her younger self? Bridgerton’s latest instalment, Queen Charlotte, is available to watch on Netflix now. #GoldaRosheuvel #IndiaRiaAmarteifio #Shondaland #bridgertonnetflix #Bridgerton #QueenCharlotte ♬ original sound - Royal Television Society

The Captain comes out in Ghosts

For all its spooky antics, there's always been a beating heart at the centre of Ghosts.

Over five series, the Horrible Histories troupe have patiently parcelled out all the backstories of the found-phantom-family, but none tried the patience of fans as much as The Captain's. Flashbacks had hinted that Ben Willbond's nameless and repressed World War Two officer was in love with a soldier under his command, Anthony, but it was only in the second last episode of the final series that they got the confirmation they craved.

And what beautiful confirmation, with each tender touch building to Anthony's loving reveal of The Captain's name, James, and the ghosts' unanimous conclusion that, although he may not have been a war hero, he was a brave man in his own right. — HB

The return of the Doctor and Donna to Doctor Who

After over a year of build-up, David Tennant (Broadchurch) and Catherine Tate (The Catherine Tate Show) returned for Doctor Who. The 60th Anniversary Specials have shown a slightly different side to Tennant’s spin on the freewheeling Time Lord. The 14th Doctor seems a mellowed version of the 10th, also played by the Staged star – this time in the Tardis, he seems kinder. He also fancies Sir Isaac Newton, naturally.

Meanwhile, Donna Noble is as curious as ever, this time with a daughter, Rose, to look after. Though she enjoys life on Earth, no-one’s above the pull of adventure on the Tardis. — JM

Lucy from Leeds blows us all away in The Piano

The Piano saw Claudia Winkleman travel to public pianos across the UK to source the next music maestro.

13-year-old Lucy lost her sight when she was young and has a duplication of chromosome 16 which means she struggles to communicate – instead, Lucy uses music to connect with people. Performing at Leeds train station, Lucy found herself communicating through her rendition of Nocturne No.1 in B Flat Minor  with the judges, passers-by and all viewers of The Piano.  

A documentary on Lucy and her relationship with her piano teacher, who has worked with her since she was three, has since been commissioned for Channel 4, and should air in 2024. — ECS

The Truman Show becomes a reality in Jury Duty

In a post-Nathan Fielder world, hoax shows are no longer the realm of mid-noughties children’s programming. As the gloriously unhinged Jury Duty showed, they can shine a light on human nature and make us wet ourselves, all in the same episode.

The reality show stars Ronald Gladden, the only person in a group of 12 peers – plus two alternates – who is not a paid actor. What follows is a Truman-Show-esque programme in which Ronald stars, despite being completely unaware of it. Through it all, Ronald maintains a friendly demeanour, determined to make it through the day and see justice delivered. — JM

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Peak TV keeps peaking. From record-breaking reality TV to Taylor Swift needledrops, and deaths that were all too real, 2023 saw too many great moments to count.