30 TV Shows with Great Performances to Watch Now

30 TV Shows with Great Performances to Watch Now

April 9, 2024

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Although television tends to get stereotyped as having “lower-tier” actors phoning in increasingly tired performances, prestige TV, unique new series, and revisiting old classics remind us that TV takes a different kind of commitment—and can lead to some of the finest and most nuanced screen acting you can hope to see. On TV, actors have the space they need to really flesh out a character, inhabiting them across multiple episodes and seasons and allowing us to see them in their most vulnerable in-between moments. Here, we’ve compiled a list of 30 shows that display the unique opportunities that TV can give to actors—who can then teach us to see the human experience with so much more intimacy.

11. Sherwood

best

8.8

Country

United Kingdom

Actors

Adam Hugill, Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook, David Morrissey

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Gripping

Beginning as a small-town murder mystery but eventually taking the shape of a police procedural, a spy drama, and a sociopolitical thriller, Sherwood fully reinvigorates the crime genre for British TV. With every twist comes a reminder of how deeply alienated the people of this former mining village have become from themselves, each other, and the outside world. Because underneath all the investigation lies a boiling tension: the scars of a past conflict among trade unionists on strike, the “scabs” who crossed the picket line to continue working, and police forces further provoking all this friction. These internal divisions haunt everything in Sherwood, brought to life by a superb ensemble—David Morrissey, Robert Glenister, Lesley Manville, Adeel Akhtar, and more—who all carry the weight and shame of being left behind by the world around them.

12. Light the Night

best

8.8

Country

Taiwan

Actors

Cammy Chiang, Cheryl Yang, Chiung-Hsuan Hsieh, Derek Chang

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Character-driven, Intense

Set in the 1980s, this captivating series uncovers the dark side of a Japanese-style nightclub called “Light” in Taipei’s red-light district, challenging the façade of its joy and glamour. Beginning with the shocking discovery of a dead body uncovered by a typhoon, the show delves into the lives of its complex characters, revealing the personal dramas of the mamasans, Rose and Sue, and every “Light” hostess. While some may find its pace across 3 seasons tedious, Light the Night is a must-watch for fans of slow-burning suspense with strong performances, impactful dialogue, and a story with the intricate layers of a well-crafted mystery.

13. The Other Two

best

8.7

Country

United States of America

Actors

Case Walker, Drew Tarver, Heléne Yorke, Josh Segarra

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Funny, Grown-up Comedy

With a masterful sense of character and its finger firmly on the pulse of pop culture, this dark comedy—about two thirtysomething siblings desperately trying to hold on to success in the shadow of their teen brother’s fame—manages to be both incredibly specific and instantly timeless. As a comedy, there might not be another show with a greater laugh-to-minute ratio than The Other Two, as a razor-sharp cast fully commit to playing characters stumbling into opportunity then debasing themselves to protect it. And the ensemble’s work is only elevated by dynamic direction that knows exactly how best to deploy an insane comic set piece.

But under the surface, there’s something gleefully twisted about how the characters gradually lose their souls in their pursuit of the spotlight. As the titular “other two” siblings abandon their values, pander to every audience, and become hooked on arbitrary signs of success, the tension in their family only tightens, too. The show knows it has a big heart deep down—and it’s so very good at chipping away at it for the sake of a great laugh.

14. The Bear

best

8.6

Country

United States, United States of America

Actors

Abby Elliott, Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeremy Allen White

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Dark, Funny

The Bear is a frantically paced miniseries that follows Carmy, a young and over-accomplished chef who moves back to Chicago to take over his family’s small restaurant. As his first order of business, Carmy tries to rework the restaurant’s so-called system, but he is continually rebuffed by the kitchen crew, who insist on maintaining their scruffy setup. 

While Carmy and crew initially refuse to meet each other halfway, their tension soon gives way to an electric, workable chemistry, which then lays the foundation for a lot of surprisingly tender moments. Funny, gripping, and absolutely mouthwatering, The Bear is, as many critics have pointed out, an absolute chef’s kiss of a show.

15. Blue Eye Samurai

best

8.6

Country

France, United States of America

Actors

Brenda Song, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Darren Barnet, George Takei

Moods

Action-packed, Binge-Worthy, Challenging

Starting off the series with slicing off fingers, Blue Eye Samurai is a thrilling action series that brings back samurai sword wielding in such a gorgeous fashion. Reminiscent of the classics, the animated series is centered on its titular warrior, whose blue eyes set them apart from society. She dedicates herself to a lifelong revenge journey, with gruesome sword fights, all to kill the four white men who could have been her father. And while she takes some side quests to her journey, missions that make her question the path she took, these seemingly straightforward fights slowly uncover the woman she became, and the pain inflicted upon those who can’t help but be different. It’s an action-packed spectacle, but it’s also an unflinching examination of trauma, and possibly one of the best animated releases from Netflix this year.

16. Mare of Easttown

best

8.6

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Actors

Angourie Rice, Cailee Spaeny, David Denman, Evan Peters

Moods

A-list actors, Character-driven, Dark

As a mystery-driven crime drama, Mare of Easttown treads pretty familiar territory without necessarily digging too deeply into the sociopolitical context it seems to hint at throughout its seven-episode run. But as the miniseries’ focus shifts from the usual procedural elements to more personal drama among the townspeople of Easttown and certain past events they haven’t moved on from, the series gets to evolve as well. The details of who was responsible for the inciting crime are ultimately less important than the conditions in the town’s history that led to the crime in the first place, whether by consequence or by fate. Some reveals here may come off as anticlimactic to some, but the series ultimately has more on its mind that’s definitely worth paying attention to.

17. Chernobyl

best

8.5

Country

Lithuania, UK, United Kingdom

Actors

Adam Nagaitis, Adrian Rawlins, Alan Williams, Alex Ferns

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Intense, Mini-series

It’s a near-impossible feat to turn something as tragic and devastating as the Chernobyl disaster into a gripping and enlightening tale, but the HBO miniseries does just that. Through insightful storytelling, affecting performances, and sharp dialogue, Chernobyl the show stuns viewers into awareness and, at its best, galvanizes them into action. 

It’s a well-crafted five-hour series that does just enough in the way of humanizing a distorted reality, bringing to light the all-too-relevant consequences of power plays and placing the interests of the political elite and national image over real, human lives.

18. Borgen: Power & Glory

best

8.5

Country

Denmark

Actors

Benedikte Hansen, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Emil Poulsen, Freja Riemann

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Challenging, Character-driven

Netflix’s resurrection of the hit Danish drama Borgen comes in the form of Borgen: Power & Glory, a miniseries that sees Birgitte Nyborg (played by powerhouse Sidse Babett Knudsen) step down as prime minister and take over the foreign minister position while wrangling over power, principle, and family. In this particular revival, Birgitte butts head with the new prime minister, who is all for drilling oil in the autonomous region of Greenland despite Birgitte’s firm stance against climate change. The event turns into a geopolitical crisis that tests Birgitte’s values.

The series is as whipsmart, relevant, and funny as ever, although if you haven’t seen previous seasons of the show yet, don’t fret. Borgen: Power & Glory efficiently catches you up on all you need to know in the first few minutes. It’s a standalone, engaging drama that’s a breeze to go through at just eight episodes.

19. Please Like Me

best

8.5

Country

Australia

Actors

Caitlin Stasey, David Roberts, Debra Lawrance, Emily Barclay

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Easy, Emotional

In Please Like Me, twenty-year-old Josh (Josh Thomas) navigates love and adulthood alongside his friends and immediate family. He’s far from perfect, and his loved ones are far from always right, but the ups and downs they go through—as small-stakes as they may seem—are always familiar and relatable. 

Please Like Me touches on modern issues and treats them both wryly and realistically so that the series never verges on either extreme. It’s charming and sensitive and bold, and the whiny arrogance that often curses millennial shows is balanced here thanks to smart self-deprecating jokes and tender characterizations. Despite its pleading title, Please Like Me is very easy to watch and, as such, very easy to love. 

20. The Good Lord Bird

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Actors

Beau Knapp, Daveed Diggs, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke

Moods

A-list actors, Action-packed, Challenging

It’s often said that history is told by the victors. Thankfully, this isn’t the case in The Good Lord Bird, which tracks the tumultuous events preceding the Civil War, as led by real-life abolitionist John Brown (Ethan Hawke). 

Some viewers might already be familiar with the story of how Brown “saved” slaves, but with Black teenager Henry (Joshua Caleb Johnson) as the narrator, history is repositioned and recounted through a fresh new lens. Nuanced questions about slavery, abolition, and even the revered Brown himself are brought up by Henry and his kin, such as: how much of the movement is driven by justice and how much of it by guilt? Should the white savior be absolved or are his intentions inevitably marred by ego?

Accompanying this thought-provoking tale are richly detailed costumes and backdrops, impressive cameos by historical and celebrity figures, and of course, career-defining performances by Hawke and newcomer Johnson. 

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