The Best British Shows on PBS in 2023

Picture shows: The main cast of Endeavour: DS Jim Strange (Sean Rigby), Dr. Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw), Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw), CS Reginald Bright (Anton Lesser), Sgt. Endeavour Morse (Sean Evans).

(L to R) DS Jim Strange (Sean Rigby), Dr. Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw), Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw), CS Reginald Bright (Anton Lesser), Sgt. Endeavour Morse (Sean Evans).

Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE

Decades are never as neat as we would like them to be. The 2020s will have a cleaner beginning for the history books than most, in that the pandemic coincided with the proper year; however, the year 2023 is the one in which a lot of series from the 2010s finally drew to a close, from Happy Valley over on AMC and Acorn TV to Endeavour on PBS. Long-running series weren't the only ones that concluded. Sanditon, a show that technically debuted in 2019, only to be canceled, revived, and then canceled again, finally drew to a close this year, as did both The Great and Starstruck, two shows that probably only ever existed due to the streaming scramble for content.

But as shows ended, new shows arrived, with the debuts of Ridley, D.I. Ray, and Marie Antoinette across PBS platforms. Shows that launched during the pandemic returned for second seasons, including Hotel Portofino, World on Fire, Annika, and Professor T. And aging shows found new life with cast turnover, including Unforgotten with Sinead Keenan replacing Nicola Walker, and Granchester, which will introduce its third vicar in nine seasons when it returns in 2024.

But of the shows on PBS and PBS Passport, which were the ones that stood out the most? And which were the ones that will stand the test of time in the years? Here's a run down of the top five shows of 2023.

5. 'Endeavour'

On some level, Endeavour's final season was not as good as it could have been, and everyone knew it. But that's the problem with prequels: everyone knows how they end because everyone's already seen that part, so there's always this awkward spot where you have to make the old and the new meet in the middle. However, Endeavour was blessed with something every prequel wishes it had: an A-list powerhouse cast.

Shaun Evans, Roger Allan, Anton Lesser, Sean Rigby, James Bradshaw, and Sarah Vickers carried the entire thing off with such aplomb, the fact that there were points when the plot was basically Wiley E Coyote walking across a chasm on the pure strength of not looking down to see there's no ground beneath his feet barely registered. Instead, fans of the Morse Cinematic Universe, no matter what era they joined, were reduced to tears as two Morses, young and old, drove by each other in their respective cars one last time.

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Shaun Evans charms audiences with his portrayal of the cerebral Detective Constable Morse.
Endeavour: show-poster2x3

4. 'Sanditon'

Sanditon's finale was better than Endeavour's in that it was a more coherent plot arc across the show's second and third seasons. However, that was due to the way the show was canceled, uncanceled, and then greenlit. Since Season 1's love interest, Sidney Parker (Theo James), was out of the picture, Seasons 2 and 3 were written (and filmed) back to back to introduce new love interests and create one long love affair with a happy ending this time.

On paper, this worked well for Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and her BFF Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke), and perhaps had the pacing been better, it would have worked well on screen too. As it was, the series wound up not giving enough time to the stuff that needed it and too much time to the staff that wound up feeling repetitive, a product of rushing the final two seasons into production after an overlong period of dormancy as people fought behind the scenes to bring it back. Hopefully, the next time it's remade, things will work out better.

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The fan-favorite drama inspired by Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel.
Sanditon: show-poster2x3

3. 'Annika'

Speaking of coherent plot arcs, watching Annika grow into itself over Season 2 was a delightful treat for 2023. Season 1 downplayed the character development happening in the background to the point that audiences practically dismissed it in favor of the mysteries of the week. It was a deliberate bait and switch to keep anyone from noticing what was right under their nose that Annika's (Nicola Walker) daughter was fathered by her boyfriend from her teenage years, her now-coworker Michael McAndrews (Jamie Sives).

Season 2 dropped the downplaying and put the family drama front and center for Season 2, making for a far more fulfilling six episodes. The mysteries of the week (and the great novels of literature they tied into) still didn't always work to tie into what was going on in Annika's life or rather, sometimes they did, but so hamfistedly, it was less a reflection than being beaten over the head repeatedly with a large, heavy mirror. 

But the Season 2 cliffhanger was just as much of a curveball as Season 1's and just as compelling, making the lack of a Season 3 renewal painful indeed.

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Nicola Walker (Unforgotten) stars as DI Annika Strandhed who juggles cases and a daughter.
Annika: show-poster2x3

2. 'World on Fire'

Of all the shows that had their second seasons disrupted by the pandemic, none were as badly delayed or painfully as upended as World on Fire. The globe-trotting, international ensemble World War II series took nearly four years to come back for Season 2, making it the longest away due to COVID-19. In the intervening time, it lost multiple cast members, including both topline stars, Sean Bean and Helen Hunt, to filming conflicts. 

One should be impressed it came back at all, considering the odds. That World On Fire came back and actually improved in some areas is a feat worthy of recognition. This is not to say the second season was perfect. There were a lot of places where the show was weaker in areas than in Season 1. The loss of Hunt, for example, was felt keenly in the German storyline, giving the Nazi atrocities no outside voice to anchor the horror. The France storyline fell to pieces, despite having a far more dramatic concept to adhere around. And the less said about Lois, the better.

However, the decision to include North Africa as a theater of war was a legitimate genius decision, as was the perspective of the colonized fighting for the colonizers. That choice alone made Season 2 a worthwhile watch and should make viewers root for a third season to be given the go-ahead.

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World On Fire

Emotionally gripping World War II drama World on Fire premieres on Sunday, April 5, 2020.
World on Fire: show-poster2x3

1. 'Tom Jones'

Tom Jones, a book that is so old it is considered to have invented the novel. Tom Jones, a book that is so male-centric, it thinks a story about a dude accidentally getting laid left and right is comical. Tom Jones, a book that is so white, that it doesn't bother to describe the character's skin tone because it's a given. When Masterpiece announced it was taking this Tom Jones, from 1749 and giving it a 21st-century update, the only question was.... how? How could it possibly manage?

And yet, the show that resulted was startling and delightful. Yes, the plot was still, well, not great, but by telling it from the point of view of Tom's love interest, Sophia Western's (Sophie Wilde), the whole story took on new life. It helped that Sophia's character was explicitly reimagined as a Black orphaned adopted daughter who'd come to England from the Caribbean, and her maid Honor (Pearl Mackie), a worldly woman from the same region, turning much of the book's perspective on its head.

Wilde's co-star, Solly McLeod, was also a delight as Jones and his foil, Hannah Waddingham, as Lady Bellaston. Between the new perspective, McLeod and Wilde as breakouts, and Mackie and Waddingham having a great time in period dress, everything about this four-part limited series is worth your time and the smile it'll bring. It turns out that sometimes the old classics can get a good refresh.

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Tom Jones

Two lovers follow their hearts in a new adaptation of Henry Fielding's novel.
Tom Jones: show-poster2x3


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice:

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