The Bear - Season 2
The Bear, Season 2 (FX)
Stories & Ideas

Wed 13 Dec 2023

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Your museum of screen culture

Which shows did you binge-watch this year? Here are some of our favourites.

The Bear (Season 2)

The second season of The Bear is less about running and working in the high-pressure environment of an eatery, and more about the sobering logistics of transforming a local sandwich joint into a high-end restaurant – and about how emotional and familial baggage can both drive and stifle us.

There are still plenty of anxiety-inducing scenes that will resonate with anyone who has worked in hospitality before, and many viewers will feel glad they have relatively normal family and friends compared to protagonist Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White). But Season 2 shines in its quieter, isolated episodes that turn the focus away from Carmy. Two of these episodes feature notable cameos from Olivia Colman and Will Poulter that instead of being distracting, enhance The Bear’s ruminations on the value of service, the importance of self-worth and of accepting one’s limitations.

There’s also an amazing payoff that comes in the form of Taylor Swift’s Love Story that ends one of the best episodes of TV in 2023.

– Garry Westmore, Senior Producer, School Programs

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Succession (Season 4)

Season 4 was the finale to Succession we needed to have. It turns out that watching terrible people vie for power is the gift that keeps giving. Over four seasons we grew to love the spiky Shiv (Sarah Snook), the morally bankrupt but endearing Roman (Kieran Culkin) and the controlling, wounded Kendall (Jeremy Strong). Their collective trauma made for compelling, addictive viewing.

Season 4’s finale contained so many iconic moments and was as satisfying an end to the struggle for the Roy empire. There was the rare moment of levity among the siblings – gracing us with the term “knobbies”, referring to the end-crusts of the bread; the absolute misogyny of Mattson (Alexander Skarsgard) reducing Shiv into someone he’d like to f*ck, and then granting the role of CEO to her husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), a move you could believe would play out in the boys' club of big business; and who could forget the instantly meme-able climax of Kendall (wrongly) shouting “but I’m the eldest boy!” with a petulant, childlike insistence.

It’s rough out there for the nepo babies.

Anaya Latter, Brand Manager

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Scavengers Reign (Season 1)

A Moebius-inspired sci-fi survival horror meets Attenborough doco with an un-healthy splash of Cronenberg-esque body horror wasn’t an expected pick for my top TV list this year but here we are.

While Scavengers Reign wears its influences boldly and unabashedly, the sum of its parts makes for a unique experience which doesn’t overstay its welcome over twelve, short, twenty-five-minute episodes.

Set on the treacherous planet Vesta, where a group of migrating colonists have crash-landed, the show delves into themes of symbiosis and ecological balance. As the characters confront the challenges of adapting to this beautiful yet perilous alien environment – something akin to the apprehensive wonder and existential dread induced by Steven Seagal's seminal album Songs from the Crystal Caves – the narrative unfolds with a unique charm placing Vesta’s environment itself front and center as a location, character, villain and ally in equal measure.

The visually stunning animation seamlessly complements the well-crafted dual timeline storytelling. In a year marked by what I found to be a sea of mediocre sci-fi television, Scavengers Reign distinguishes itself by offering a remarkably distinctive and beautifully executed exploration of survival and ecological dangers on an alien world.

– Thomas Doman, Technical Production Manager

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Star Trek: Picard (Season 3)

Back in 2020, before Series 1 of Star Trek: Picard had begun, I voiced a fear that the show would feature a 79-year-old Patrick Stewart “hobbling around the galaxy punching aliens and spouting action one-liners”. Thankfully, we didn’t get that but with this series, and with this new era of Trek as a whole, what we got was a nice-looking, well-acted, but at times ill-conceived and nihilistic vision of future humanity who had learned little from the moral, intellectual and cosmic journeys undertaken by generations of Star Trek characters over centuries. But times have changed; from Discovery to Lower Decks to Prodigy to Strange New Worlds, there’s now a Star Trek product for everyone. Where once we were united by Gene Roddenberry’s vision of common humanity, we’re now segmented by market. Remember that episode in The Next Generation where three cryogenically frozen Earth humans from the past were scooped up by the Enterprise, and the one business guy was nonplussed by being on a starship hurtling through the vacuum of eternity but concerned more about his stock portfolio? That’s us.

I digress. Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard was a triumph. A glorious return to form. Take a bow, Terry Matalas. Two moments on screen made me weep this year: the ending of Aftersun, and the orchestral score swelling as the Enterprise D emerged gracefully from its spacedock and pitched around swan-like before shooting off at warp speed with our beloved crew of TNG aunties and uncles on board in their rightful positions. “Engage," he commanded. Pure poetry.

– Dilan Gunawardana, Digital Editor

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Blue Lights (Season 1)

There’s no shortage of cop shows, good ones and bad. We’ve all seen the tropes: cop with troubled past, blurred ethics, bleeding heart. Then there’s Blue Lights.

Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the series follows three probationary officers of varying attitude and aptitude as they battle crime, and clash with their communities and their colleagues.

The rookies, played by Siân Brooke, Nathan Braniff and Katherine Devlin, work under guidance of seasoned coppers (“don’t wear a name badge ‘round here”; “you can’t solve their problems for them”), including a brilliant Richard Dormer as weather-beaten Constable Gerry.

The season builds at pace as post–Troubles Belfast bubbles in the background – as does your anxiety for the welfare of the outstanding cast of characters you’ve come to care about.

Created by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson (The Salisbury Poisonings), Blue Lights is a rewarding procedural drama full of humour and feeling, and a fresh take on the genre.

– Kasey Glazebrook, Head of Communications

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Deadloch (Season 1)

A serial killer is on the loose in a picturesque Tasmanian town in this dry, darkly hilarious murder mystery from 'the Kates', Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan (Get Krack!n). A gripping Aussie show with a queer edge, and featuring standout performances from Madeleine Sami, Kartanya Maynard, Leonie Whyman and Nina Oyama, Deadloch is unmissable TV.

Ruby Quail, Creative Technologist

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Only Murders in the Building (Season 3)

I cannot get enough of this crime fighting trio! My skepticism that another season of the murder mystery podcast caper wouldn’t veer into rinse and repeat territory was quickly quelled by the solid character development of Mabel (Selena Gomez), and the introduction of a leading lady played by none other than icon Meryl Streep – whose accent work is transportive. At times, I forgot that another screen icon was sleuthing in the halls of the ill-fated Upper West side apartment building.

Despite the numerous murders in this one building, I would still learn and perform ‘Which of the Pickwick Triplets Did It?’ for ownership of just a lowly broom cupboard anywhere near this jazzy trio. The stakes are low, comedic timing high and the premise is just rattling razzle-dazzle.

Jessica Lehmann, Program Manager

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Top Boy (Season 5)

After the devastating finale of Season 4, the kingpins of Summerhouse, Sully (Kane Robinson) and Dushane (Ashley Walters), find themselves on a collision course: Dushane seeks to ‘go legit’ and break away from the brutal cycle of death and drug-peddling by shifting his focus to a predatory housing development; and the shark-like Sully just can’t get the scent of blood and money out of his nose. It’s sink or swim for him.

Bleak and unflinching in its portrayal of life in the ‘ends’ of London’s boroughs, Top Boy is top-tier storytelling, on par with The Sopranos and Breaking Bad in eliciting sympathy from us towards its leading monsters. Walters and Robinson, and the wider cast of relative unknowns, plus the scene-stealing Barry Keoghan and Erin Kellyman, are magnetic in their authenticity.

– Dilan Gunawardana, Digital Editor

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Bocchi the Rock! (Season 1)

Hitori Gotoh suffers from crippling social anxiety. So much so that even the thought of speaking to her high school classmates fills her with a sense of existential dread. But this year she is determined that things are about to change... and music might just be the key.

A spiritual successor to beloved musical slice-of-life anime classics like K-On, Bocchi the Rock! is hilarious and heartfelt journey with Hitori and her newfound friends to bring the Kessoku Band to the main stage. With a highly catchy soundtrack, laugh-out-loud moments of animated awkwardness and gorgeous animation by CloverWorks, BTR! sets itself apart from other musical anime with a genuine warmth and empathy for its main characters.

– Arieh Offman, Programmer, Public Programs

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Dimension 20

Across five seasons (campaigns) this year, tabletop roleplaying game show Dimension 20 continued to broaden its scope in the guests it had on, the stories they told and most importantly how those stories were told. This year alone we saw the core cast explore fairytale storytelling through a metaphysical lens, a prequel to one of the shows most beloved seasons, and a noir set inside the brain that yes and-ed its way to the goofiest of heights.

But two campaigns in particular show off the breadth of what can be accomplished when you’re one of the biggest shows in the actual play space. ‘Dungeons & Drag Queens’ brought four of the biggest names in drag into the dome and proved to be a masterclass in welcoming historically excluded groups into the TTRPG space with Brennan Lee Mulligan teaching these new players in real time, leading to on camera eureka moments of each queen learning to love the game and losing themselves in it. ‘Burrows End’ meanwhile sees Aabria Iyengar using the mechanics of D&D to question the colonial structures that have been at the core of the game since its beginning.

Callan Webster, Visitor Services Officer

Futurama (Season 11)

The gang from Planet Express return, once again proving that Futurama has more lives than a bagful of cats.

Resurrected by Hulu after a ten-year hiatus, and featuring the original voice cast, including Billy West, Katey Sagal and John DiMaggio, Matt Groening’s science fiction animated comedy has lost none of its charm or wit in this new series of space-based adventures. Fans can celebrate with the knowledge that it has been renewed for another two seasons.

– Arieh Offman, Programmer, Public Programs

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Gen V (Season 1)

If you loved Eric Kripke's The Boys, you’ll also love its no-less-gory spinoff.

The super-students at Godolkin University School of Crimefighting compete against each other for top spot in the university's rankings – with the hope of one day joining the world’s elite superhero squad, The Seven. Some students genuinely want to develop their powers to help people, but others just want to increase their rankings and social media clout and have no qualms about treading on their peers on the way up. But when the protagonists uncover a darker side to God U's program, they need to decide what kind of superheroes they want to be.

The young cast members are stellar, standouts being Jaz Sinclair (Marie Moreau), Lizzie Broadway (Emma Meyer) and Asa Germann (Sam Riordan), and of course there are several cameo appearances from The Boys.

Fiona Mowat, Assistant Registrar

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Planet Earth III

David Attenborough has often shied away from speaking about the elephant in the room, perhaps due to the struggle of balancing captivating television with impending world doom. In the latest iteration of Planet Earth however, there is no beating around the bush.

Well up at the plight of a family of ostriches in the harsh Namib desert and then weep over the state of our planet. Aerial footage of Brazil’s vast monoculture plantations against remaining fragments of rainforest is a hard watch. Humanity is no longer just behind the camera: it seeps into every frame. Chimps cross busy roads in search of food, dolphins get trapped in irrigation channels and a literal rhino walks through a busy town (it’s not CGI, I googled it!) Not even our own backyards remain unscathed, with a rare tawny frogmouth hunted by a Melbournian housecat.

Planet Earth III feels like Attenborough’s swan song. Embrace a plant-based diet or accept the collapse of the natural world, he says. Of course, it wouldn’t be Attenborough without some tear-inducing hope, and only he could give us that while also banging us over the head repeatedly to wake up and watch.

– Mitchell Mckay, Festival and Events Coordinator

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Scott Pilgrim Takes Off (Season 1)

Every adaptation of Brian Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series offers a unique spin on the story, and the 2023 Netflix animated TV adaptation, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, is no different.

From the first episode, the show makes a compelling narrative choice that moves the focus to the supporting characters and allows the ensemble cast to truly shine. The entire main cast from Edgar Wright's 2010 live action film adaptation has returned, delivering stellar performances all round, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead's portrayal of Ramona stealing the show.

Japanese animation studio Science Saru has masterfully adapted the animation from O'Malley's graphic novels, with subtle nods to Wright's live action adaptation. The chiptune group Anamanaguchi, who composed the soundtrack for the 2010 videogame adaptation, have returned to create a fitting soundtrack, complemented by a selection of fantastic licensed music. While Scott Pilgrim Takes Off may not be groundbreaking or profound, it remains a delightful experience that's easy to adore.

– Ruby Quail, Creative Technologist

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Heartstopper (Season 2)

Following on from its successful first season that turned so many queer and teen drama tropes on its head, Heartstopper Season 2 does not disappoint. Heartstopper continues to be a feel-good teen romance, while delving deeper this season into the personal struggles that Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke) each experience.

We also see more of Nick and Charlie’s friends this season that not only highlights different queer identities and experiences (a key strength of this season), but further shows us the importance and joy of queer friendship and community.

– Tor Evans, Corporate Partnership Coordinator

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Star Wars: Ahsoka (Season 1)

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) made her live-action debut in The Mandalorian, to the delight of fans of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Now the apprentice of Anakin Skywalker has her own series, set after the events of Star Wars Rebels.

While the Republican Senate believes that the Empire has been overthrown, the skeptical former jedi Ahsoka reunites with some of the Rebels crew to track down the high-ranking Empire officer, Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), still bent on galactic domination. Ahsoka is in turn pursued by dark Jedi Baylan Skoll (one of the final performances by the charismatic Ray Stevenson) and his apprentice Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno). If the chases, lightsaber duels and reunions aren’t enough to whet your appetite, I have only two words for you: Zombie Stormtroopers.

Fiona Mowat, Assistant Registrar

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Swarm (Season 1)

Swarm, created by Donald Glover (Atlanta) and Janine Nabers (unREAL), explores what could happen if a celebrity-obsessed fan took a homicidal turn.

The series is darkly funny and satirical but packs a punch too – with news stories and true-life incidents informing each episode. Tangentially based on Beyoncé’s beehive, Swarm follows Ni’jah fan Dre, played by Dominique Fishback – a sullen, but fiercely loyal outcast who hunts down anyone who has ever tweeted about her favourite singer in a less-than-positive light. A handful of reviewers found the show one-dimensional and shallow; I think it stands up as a sinister and satisfying dive into parasocial behaviour.

Anaya Latter, Brand Manager

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The Gallows Pole

Shane Meadows (This Is England, The Virtues) returns with aplomb in this compelling period comedy-drama-shocker about a famed counterfeiting gang that terrorised the communities of West Yorkshire in the north of England in the 18th Century.

Meadows’ craft for interweaving dialogues on desperation, class warfare and the everlasting power of money to corrupt, pumps the pulsating blood through the body of this series. Michael Socha’s performance as the “King” David Hartley is noteworthy, as is the terrifying cameo from Ralph Ineson. You won’t watch anything like this anywhere this year; it’s not to be missed. Meadows remains a modern master of the screen.

Benjamin Haller, Audience Engagement Analyst

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The Mandalorian (Season 3)

The Mandalorian’s first two seasons echoed the swashbuckling adventures of Spaghetti Western movies, and the Japanese Samurai movies that inspired them. This third season is no different, with redemption arcs for both Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), and in a mid-season highlight, we finally learn how Grogu survived the purge of the Jedi, when he experiences a breathtaking flashback to his childhood rescue from the Temple by Jedi Master Kelleran Beq (a deservedly heroic performance by Ahmed Best, who played the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks in the prequel series of films).

Season 3 has a great balance of light-hearted whimsy (Grogu controlling a rebuilt IG-11 like he’s Ripley in the Aliens power loader), monsters to vanquish, townsfolk to rescue and a final showdown with the delightful, scene-chewing villain Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and his beskar-clad stormtroopers.

Fiona Mowat, Assistant Registrar

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What We Do in the Shadows (Season 5)

In Season 4’s cliffhanger, loyal familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) was done waiting for his master Nandor (Kayvan Novak) to turn him into a vampire and paid his friend Derek (Chris Sandiford) to do it instead. Season 5 picks up at the edge of this cliff, but things don’t pan out how Guillermo expected.

We follow this slower-than-expected dark development with a welcome, expanded relationship between Guillermo and Laszlo (Matt Berry), who takes on Guillermo’s stalled transformation as a scientific project. Previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor awards, Guillén deserves Leading Actor recognition for this this year’s performance.

– Fiona Mowat, Assistant Registrar

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The Curse (Season 1)

The Curse is a dream collaboration between Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie that interrogates gentrification and ‘woke’ whiteness with a sharp, satirical gaze.

Emma Stone and Fielder are a do-good(ish) couple who are currently shooting a home-improvement reality show called ‘Flipanthropy’, produced by Safdie, in a down-and-out suburb of Espanola in America. Each episode is dripping with cringe, and at times it can be difficult to watch, with each character revealing themselves to be more morally dubious, and oblivious to their own corruption.

A few episodes in, we see Whitney (Stone) going through her Instagram to repeatedly delete negative comments accusing her of plagiarism, learn that Asher (Fielder) has designed lighting techniques to mimic circadian rhythms and keep gamblers in the casino for longer, and Dougie (Safdie) repeatedly rationalises away any responsibility for drunk driving in a car accident that killed his wife.

This is razor-sharp satire at its best, with pitch perfect writing and performances. It’s also shot in a haunting and unique way – framed through the windows of other people’s loungerooms, or from high above, giving a sense of long-lensed documentary or fly-on-the-wall so that scenes feel spied-on, impromptu and accidentally captured. It’s as if the term ‘non-diegetic sound’ could apply to the cinematography.

There’s also a slew of entertaining publicity appearances by Fielder and Safdie where they seem to inhabit bizarre characters. Fielder wearing sunglasses and an earring suggests that the New York Times be called up and request a correction over his “stiff” performance; while Safdie conducts an entire talkshow completely painted chrome-silver. These two riff off each other in a peculiar and utterly unique way, making The Curse a must-watch. It’s also a great reminder to go back and revisit Nathan for You and The Rehearsal for more awkward genius. NB: Show still airing at time of writing, review based on episodes 1–5.

– Anaya Latter, Brand Manager

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Ted Lasso (Season 3)

Ted Lasso’s creators had always promised that there would only be three seasons of their sports comedy-drama so there was extra anticipation for Season 3, with many viewers invested in its characters; it did not disappoint.

The kindness, positivity and humour that endeared the show to so many was back, along with the puns, excellent and eclectic pop culture references and throwbacks to moments in previous seasons. Familiar characters continued to develop and surprise. The show’s writers were smart: they chose not to resolve everything neatly but gave the audience clues to well-loved characters' possible futures.

Ted Lasso continued to be a show about an English Premier League football team that is also a thoughtful reflection on being the best you can be, and also like a warm hug; a combination that shouldn’t work but absolutely does.

– Thara Krishna-Pillay, Programmer, Public Programs

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The Best TV Shows of 2023 – as chosen by ACMI Members

We asked our members to choose their favourite TV shows that came out this year. Here are the top 10 selections:

  1. The Bear (Season 2)
  2. Succession (Season 4)
  3. Beef (Season 1)
  4. The Last of Us (Season 1)
  5. Ted Lasso (Season 3)
  6. The Newsreader (Season 2)
  7. Deadloch (Season 1)
  8. Heartstopper (Season 2)
  9. Poker Face (Season 1)
  10. Good Omens (Season 2)

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