From Boiling Point to Breathtaking – the 15 best TV dramas for autumn 2023 (2024)

Ten new shows

Love & Death
(ITVX, 7 September)

Elizabeth Olsen excels in HBO’s classy true-crime miniseries as 80s suburban Texas housewife Candy Montgomery. After a fling with a married member of her Methodist church group (the reliably terrific Jesse Plemons), she’s put on trial for killing his wife with an axe. The presence of writer David E Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Undoing) guarantees another addictive, talking-point potboiler.

The Lovers
(Sky Atlantic/Now, 7 September)

“Let’s have an affair. But we can’t fall in love.” Johnny Flynn and talent-to-watch Roisin Gallagher (The Dry) star in an entertainingly rude romcom, set in Belfast, created by acclaimed playwright David Ireland (Cyprus Avenue) and from the producers of Doctor Foster and The English. He’s a posh political TV presenter with a celebrity girlfriend. She’s a potty-mouthed supermarket worker with no interest in current affairs. Or indeed anything much. When this unlikely pair are thrown together in surprising circ*mstances, sparks fly.

Lessons in Chemistry
(Apple TV+, 13 October)

Bonnie Garmus’s novel, dubbed “the Catch-22 of early feminism” by Stephen King, became a word-of-mouth bestseller in 2022. Now Brie Larson exec-produces and stars in this glossy adaptation. In the 50s, pregnant scientist Elizabeth Zott is fired from her lab job by sexist colleagues, so pivots to hosting a hit TV cooking show. She soon sets out to teach a nation of downtrodden housewives a lot more than recipes. An empowering period comedy, complete with talking dog.

Boiling Point
(BBC One, October)

A British answer to The Bear? Yes, chef. Stephen Graham starred as an alcoholic chef on the edge in 2021’s Bafta-nominated, nerve-jangling, one-take film and reprises his role in this four-part spin-off. The spotlight shifts to no-nonsense sous chef Carly (Vinette Robinson) who, eight months later, is running her own restaurant in London. Director Philip Barantini and writer James Cummings return, as do the kitchen crew including Hannah Walters and Ray Panthaki.

Three Little Birds
(ITV, October)

This deeply personal post-Windrush drama is a labour of love for writer Lenny Henry, inspired by his mother and all those who travelled to build new lives in “the mother country”. When three women arrive from Jamaica in 1957, they must overcome racism, sexism and poverty – not to mention the British weather – to make Dudley their home. But what did they leave behind? Executive produced by Russell T Davies, it’s a spirited celebration of community and multiculturalism, with a swinging period soundtrack.

Grime Kids
(BBC Three, autumn)

From Boiling Point to Breathtaking – the 15 best TV dramas for autumn 2023 (2)

Irrepressible realist teen flick Rocks is one of the best British films of the decade so far. Its Bafta-nominated writer, Theresa Ikoko, moves to the small screen for this pulsating musical drama. Inspired by DJ Target’s memoir, it charts the rise of five “youngers” in the early 00s who dream of getting their voices heard through music. A posse of exciting new talent plays the five leads, supported by older hands such as Don Gilet and Jo Martin.

(ITV, autumn)

Too soon for a pandemic drama? Rachel Clarke’s unflinching personal account of the Covid crisis was hailed in the Observer as “deeply humane … replete with courage, resilience and empathy”. Alongside former hospital doctors Jed Mercurio and Prasanna Puwanarajah, she’s adapted her memoir into a drama starring Joanne Froggatt as a frontline hospital consultant who witnesses the virus take hold and overwhelm the NHS. Clarke has promised both factual accuracy and moments of levity amid the unfolding tragedy.

All the Light We Cannot See
(Netflix, 2 November)

From Boiling Point to Breathtaking – the 15 best TV dramas for autumn 2023 (3)

Based on Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this second world war drama follows a blind French teenager trying to find her father via radio signals – and forming an unlikely friendship with a young Nazi recruit in the process. The four-parter comes with impeccable credentials: the cast boasts Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie, while Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight are at the helm. Expect epic sweep, stunning visuals and something in your eye.

The Reckoning
(BBC One, later this autumn)

This controversial drama about the Jimmy Savile scandal has had a bumpy path to the screen, having first been announced in 2020. It was rumoured to be delayed due to BBC fears of a backlash, reportedly because it features members of the royal family, but finally arrives this autumn. Steve Coogan has the unenviable task of portraying the prolific child abuser, a decision that he “didn’t take lightly”. Four Savile survivors will give their testimonies on camera.

The Long Shadow
(ITV, autumn)

This compassionate series sells itself as “the definitive account” of the desperate hunt for 1970s serial killer Peter Sutcliffe. The seven-parter certainly has a heavyweight cast, with Toby Jones, Lee Ingleby and David Morrissey as the West Yorkshire detectives working around the clock to catch him; Daniel Mays as one of the victims’ husbands; and Katherine Kelly, Stephen Tompkinson, Shaun Dooley and Jill Halfpenny in supporting roles. It focuses on the communities living in fear and the families left behind as much as the five-year cat-and-mouse chase.

Five returning series

From Boiling Point to Breathtaking – the 15 best TV dramas for autumn 2023 (4)

Top Boy
(Netflix, 7 September)

A storm is gathering on the Summerhouse estate. Ronan Bennett’s uncompromising east London crime epic has sprawled across 12 years and two broadcasters; now the fifth season brings events to an explosive end. Oscar-nominated Irish cult hero Barry Keoghan joins the cast as drug kingpins Sully (Kane “Kano” Robinson) and Dushane (Ashley Walters) fight to maintain gangland supremacy. With bullets flying and the stakes higher than ever, can our Hackney anti-heroes survive until the end credits?

Sex Education
(Netflix, 21 September)

It might be the fourth and final season for Laurie Nunn’s hit teen comedy but it’s also a new beginning for her one-track-minded students. Moordale Secondary has closed and the gang are enrolling at the even more progressive Cavendish Sixth Form College. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) is desperate for higher social status this time around. Can he crack the new in-crowd known as the coven? Meanwhile, Otis (Asa Butterfield) has a mysterious rival as resident sex therapist. And then (sob) school’s out for ever.

(BBC One, autumn)

Jimmy McGovern’s devastating prison drama, starring Sean Bean, deservedly won a brace of Baftas last year. Now he’s cleverly converted it into an anthology series. The second chapter, co-written by Helen Black (Life and Death in the Warehouse), relocates the action to a women’s prison, where inmates played by Jodie Whittaker, Bella Ramsey and Tamara Lawrance arrive on the same day. Siobhan Finneran returns as the prison chaplain.

Doctor Who
(BBC One, November)

Russell T Davies already revived the venerable sci-fi franchise in 2005. Now he rides to the rescue again. David Tennant and Catherine Tate return for a trio of specials to celebrate the show’s 60th anniversary. The enemies faced by the reborn time lord and his companion Donna Noble remain a closely guarded secret but confirmed guest stars include Neil Patrick Harris, Ruth Madeley and Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney, plus a posthumous appearance from Bernard Cribbins. It all thrillingly sets the scene for Ncuti Gatwa (see also Sex Education above), who will inherit the sonic screwdriver over the festive season.

The Crown
(Netflix, November)

Fiction is rapidly catching up with fact in the sixth and final season of Peter Morgan’s stately royal saga. Our last peep behind the palace walls begins in 1997, portraying the aftermath of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales (Elizabeth Debicki). Taking us through to 2005, the 10-part series also depicts the passing of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother, as well as the blossoming romance between student sweethearts Prince William and Kate Middleton. Happily, it concludes pre-Prince Andrew’s Newsnight omnishambles.

Other highlights

From Boiling Point to Breathtaking – the 15 best TV dramas for autumn 2023 (5)

Faithful or traitor? That will once again be the question echoing around a Highland castle when the hit reality contest The Traitors (BBC One) returns for its eagerly awaited second UK series. A presumably less polite battle for survival will unfold in Squid Game: The Challenge (Netflix, November), a knockout gameshow based on the dystopian South Korean drama.

The Boston-set reboot of sitcom Frasier (Paramount+, 12 October) will be fascinating, not least for the casting of our own Nicholas Lyndhurst. So will the four-part fashion documentary The Super Models (Apple TV+, 20 September), looking at the 9os reign of Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista et al. A pair of 00s reality franchises are being expensively rebooted, with Big Brother on ITV2 and Survivor on BBC One.

Welcome to Wrexham (Disney+, 13 September) continues the Welsh club’s fairytale rise since its Hollywood takeover, while two other football-based docuseries will hit headlines: Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story (Disney+) and Beckham (Netflix), tracing Golden Balls’s journey to global fame and lifting the lid on his OCD. Prepare for kick-off.

From Boiling Point to Breathtaking – the 15 best TV dramas for autumn 2023 (2024)


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