30 TV Shows with Great Performances to Watch Now

Updated December 2, 2023 • Staff

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.

Read also:

Everything Now

Messier than Heartstopper, but tamer than Skins, Everything Now has everything you’d expect from a British teen show. Sexuality, vices, and experimentation is what the series shares with other coming-of-age series, but at its heart is Mia Polanco as she tries to get back to her regular life after anorexia recovery. Cutting between her life now and her seven-month hospital stint, the show feels like a realistic depiction of a non-linear healing journey. It’s a show that makes sense to release right now, as the world’s teens try to get back to normal and try to reach standard teen touchstones.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Aurélien Pallot, Harry Cadby, Lauryn Ajufo, Luca Slade, Sophie Wilde
Rating: TV-MA


Taking the violence and offbeat comedy of the original movie and adding constantly expanding narratives on top of it, Noah Hawley's TV adaptation of Fargo arguably becomes an even richer portrait of the dark side of human nature hiding inside modern, polite society. All four complete seasons of the anthology series (with a fifth currently ongoing at the time of this writing) are an exercise in seeing how many dominoes can topple from a series of mismanaged coincidences. The resulting chaos then becomes more of a reflection on the kind of facades these characters would rather maintain for the sake of some semblance of control.

And perhaps with the exception of the show's ambitious but sluggish fourth season, every Fargo story is dripping in suspense and cinematic polish, with plenty of chilling visuals and intricate music and sound design—not to mention ensemble casts who are almost always at the height of their powers. Each season has at least one stand-out, be it Alison Tolman and Billy Bob Thornton in season one, Carrie Coon and David Thewlis in season three, Ben Whishaw in season four, and practically everybody from season two. These are all actors who understand exactly how to inhabit the world Hawley has deepened, through wry humor and surprising pathos.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Dave Foley, David Rysdahl, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joe Keery, Jon Hamm, Juno Temple, Lamorne Morris, Richa Shukla Moorjani, Sam Spruell
Rating: TV-MA

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

After struggling to recapture the magic of the first few Star Trek series for the better part of two decades, the franchise has finally returned to its original formula of self-contained space adventures, progressive politics, and an unabashedly hopeful tone—all to magnificent results. Strange New Worlds is classic Trek in every sense: from its truly out-there, '60s-style sci-fi stories; to its warm sense of humor; to its welcome focus on sentiment and emotion even amid large battles and dangerous situations. The series accomplishes all of this while keeping every member of its crew unique and charismatic, crafting powerful character moments for them even in the thick of things—elevated by uniformly brilliant performances from its cast, led by a commanding Anson Mount. It's Star Trek for old and new fans alike, and a great reminder of the distinct strengths of episodic TV.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction
Actor: Anson Mount, Babs Olusanmokun, Celia Rose Gooding, Christina Chong, Ethan Peck, Jess Bush, Melissa Navia, Rebecca Romijn

Full Circle

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Oceans trilogy, Erin Brockovich, and more recently, Kimi), Full Circle is a twisty and stylish noir that takes a while to grasp, what with its epic ensemble and sweeping storylines, but once that first thread of connection is made, it becomes a series that’s very hard to leave. Each episode leaves you excited for the next, which in turn ups the ante even more. Soderbergh is in his element, and aided by a stacked cast of veterans and newcomers alike, he turns in a series that’s expertly tense and watchable throughout. 

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: CCH Pounder, Claire Danes, Dennis Quaid, Gerald W. Jones III, Jharrel Jerome, Jim Gaffigan, Phaldut Sharma, Suzanne Savoy, Timothy Olyphant, Zazie Beetz
Rating: TV-MA

Kaala Paani

There’s a lot happening in Netflix’s first Hindi survival thriller series Kaala Paani. The main plot follows the discovery of a new disease with inky rashes that confounds scientists and policymakers, which would remind viewers of the botched response towards COVID-19, but there are multiple subplots including a love story with a traumatized former nurse, a family drama between separated parents and children, and the ecological commentary on the indigenous population that survived the disease once before. But Kaala Paani is able to balance these plots, tweaking the series’ disease to visually carry the show’s science in order to dedicate more weight to each subplot. It allows showrunner Sameer Saxena to play with more philosophical themes, and allows his compelling cast to play with more complex and dynamic roles.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Amey Wagh, Arushi Sharma, Ashutosh Gowariker, Mona Singh, Sukant Goel
Director: Amit Golani, Sameer Saxena
Rating: TV-MA

The Curse

That The Curse is squirm-inducingly awkward won’t be news to anyone who’s watched a Nathan Fielder show before, but TV’s king of cringe digs his heels in on that approach here. The Curse chronicles the making of another show: HGTV’s inelegantly named “Flipanthropy,” which follows Fielder’s Asher and wife Whitney Siegel (Emma Stone) as they perform (the operative word) good deeds in a struggling New Mexico town. Flipanthropy is also a means through which the well-to-do white couple can shill the eco-friendly homes they’re gentrifying the town with — a galling conflict of interest that plays as a running satire of TV. 

The uneasy tension between what the Siegels say they want to do versus what they actually do is the heart of the show. In true Fielder fashion, their hypocrisy is revealed through excruciatingly awkward, tortuously long scenes takes, such as the one that gives the show its title (the socially inept Asher angers a little girl, who puts a curse on him). This scene is also an example of the insane left takes The Curse constantly takes, which speak to Fielder’s ability to make his shows feel like they’re falling apart all while building to towering complexity. Suffice it to say, there’s nothing else like this on TV.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Comedy
Actor: Benny Safdie, Emma Stone, Nathan Fielder
Rating: TV-MA


Industry has all the markings of an HBO show: an abundance of sex, drugs, alcohol, and sure enough, an inextinguishable affinity for the F word. Like Succession, The Sopranos, and even Euphoria before it, it revels in its freedom to explore the nitty-grittiest parts of its subject matter and put its gruesome findings on full display. But instead of capitalism, organized crime, or teenhood, Industry incisively takes on hustle culture. 

Through the eyes of four new hires at a premier investment bank in London, we see the dangerous means people put themselves through in order to achieve some semblance of respect, recognition, or at the very least stability. Bullying is rampant, hazing is normalized, competition is encouraged, and blind loyalty is rewarded. The characters are so flawed and damaged, you’ll often find yourself rooting for their demise. But you’ll also be glued to their arcs and storylines. Will they break the cycle of abuse or continue it? Can they actually change the system from within or does that remain a utopian dream? These questions are hardly charming, but Industry has a way of making them engaging, exciting even. It fully inhabits the meanness you can and should only enjoy behind the safety of a TV screen. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Adam Levy, Alex Alomar Akpobome, Conor MacNeill, Harry Lawtey, Jay Duplass, Katrine De Candole, Ken Leung, Marisa Abela, Myha'la Herrold
Rating: TV-MA

The Diplomat

It’s amazing how shows fueled only by fast talk can feel as gripping as any thriller out there. The Diplomat is cerebral and heavy on geopolitical jargon, but somehow, it manages to feel genuinely exciting, each new episode impossible to not play next. Thanks is due in large part to Keri Russell who, fresh out of her incredible stint in The Americans, returns here as messy and intense and endearing as ever. 

On the one hand, The Diplomat is about the delicacy of diplomacy, about how every decision made at this level has ripples of consequences throughout the globe. But it’s also, amusingly, a marriage story. Russell plays a woman who has long been defined by her more renowned if a bit egotistical husband, played perfectly by Rufus Sewell. They have a complex relationship that is as much of a career partnership as it is a romantic one, and part of the show’s charm is blending this story arc with the main one. 

Fans of West Wing, Veep, and Homeland will find much to like in this series, not least of all are the informative takes and worthwhile performances. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Ali Ahn, Ato Essandoh, David Gyasi, Keri Russell, Rory Kinnear, Rufus Sewell
Rating: TV-MA


There is a very good case to be made for Veep being, pound-for-pound, the best American comedy to air on TV. Because while many other workplace sitcoms comment also comment on current events and satirize bureaucratic processes, no other show has committed this deeply to the inherent corruption and stupidity of every single one of its major characters. Selina Meyer and her staff are either so evil or so incompetent that they circle around to being irresistibly fun to watch and hilarious in all their own unique ways—which the series' writers expertly wrangle together in each script. And with much of the show's humor being built on creative, devastating insults, Veep also possesses a truly vicious edge that make it more challenging than its contemporaries.

But one shouldn't forget that the series also tells a compelling story of how soulless a nation's leaders can be, putting a magnifying class to every little political decision made in the name of saving face or pushing forward some other unrelated agenda. It's surprisingly insightful for something that seems so crass. And as Selina Meyer herself, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (surrounded by a brilliant, dynamic cast) turns in one of the greatest comedic performances on TV as a pathetic vice president who can't help but let the monstrous side of herself win every time.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy
Actor: Anna Chlumsky, Clea DuVall, Gary Cole, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Dunn, Matt Walsh, Reid Scott, Sam Richardson, Sarah Sutherland, Timothy Simons, Tony Hale


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.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Adam Nagaitis, Adrian Rawlins, Alan Williams, Alex Ferns, Barry Keoghan, Con O'Neill, David Dencik, Emily Watson, Fares Fares, Jared Harris, Jessie Buckley, Mark Lewis Jones, Michael McElhatton, Paul Ritter, Ralph Ineson, Robert Emms, Sam Troughton, Stellan Skarsgård
Rating: TV-MA

Ready to cut the cord? Here are the 14 live TV streaming services that offer a free trial.

More lists